Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Part II

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), formerly known as the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative and the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), is an international organization consisting of 22 states bordering the Indian Ocean.

In the last blog we discussed the origin of IORA,IORA Sustainable Development Program (ISDP), its objectives, IORA member states & more.

In this blog we will discuss priority areas like maritime safety, disaster risk management, look at IORA achievements, India’s role in the IORA and the way ahead for the organisation.

PRIORITY AREAS

Maritime Safety and Security 

  • IORA considers itself the "first line of defence" to build upon existing maritime security measures in the region. 
  • Maritime security is generally accepted to include a wide array of issues, ranging from the marine environment to human security; 
  • IORA does not stray from this broad definition, noting the importance of both traditional security threats and nontraditional threats such as environmental health and  IUU fishing. 
  • In addition, IORA includes a "Maritime Safety" initiative that is concerned with training,  transport, equipment-related issues, and assistance in distress situations. 

Trade & Investment Facilitation 

  • Recognizing the importance of the Indian Ocean Region in global trade, IORA has prioritized trade liberalisation and the free flow of goods, services, investment, and  technology; 
  • Its "Action Plan 2017-2021" put forward the seven targets for trade in the region, ranging from reducing barriers to trade in the short term to making business travel easier in the long term. 

Fisheries Management 

  • Though included under the umbrella "Maritime Safety and Security" priority area,  fisheries management proved itself to be an especially salient issue for IORA member states, warranting its inclusion as the organization's third-highest priority.  
  • Through the Fisheries Support Unit (FSU) Flagship Project, IORA intends to promote  sustainable conservation and the Blue Economy by reducing exploitation of fish stocks  and promoting safe and responsible seafood trade 

Disaster Risk Management 

  • The Indian Ocean Region is prone to disasters both natural and man-made, such as cyclones, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and tidal surges; and oil spills, fires, leakage of poisonous substances, and illegal dumping, respectively. 
  • IORA's Disaster Risk Management revolves around the development of knowledge and capabilities to anticipate, respond to, and recover from disasters 
  • IORA's Disaster Risk Management Plan is multidisciplinary, involving national governments, non-governmental organizations, regional and international partners, and the private sector, among others.

Tourism and Cultural Exchanges 

  • IORA promotes tourism and cultural exchanges through policy proposals for cooperation  among member states and dialogue partners in order to promote regional economic  growth, encourage the sustainable development of eco-tourism, and promote cultural  heritage and "harnessing the economic potential of this heritage 

Academic, Science & Technology 

  • IORA promotes the cooperation of centres of excellence in the Indian Ocean Region, citing the potential academia has to enhance IORA's knowledge on issues relating to marine conservation. 

Notable Advances & Achievements 

Membership Expansion 

  • The initial membership of IORA, then the Indian Ocean Rim Initiative, included only seven countries, the "Magnificent 7," hosted by Mauritius. 
  • Though membership grew to 14 states in March 1997, when the first ministerial meeting was convened and the Charter of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for  Regional Cooperation was approved, it has since grown to include 22 states and 10  dialogue partners. 
  • Significantly, the organization can now be said to truly comprise the Indian Ocean  Region, and the involvement of great powers as dialogue partners has greatly expanded  IORA's influence. 

Expansion of Scope 

  • Though initially focused solely on economic and trade cooperation, IORA has expanded its scope to include broader maritime security objectives, most notably a focus on non-traditional security threats, which are of growing importance in the maritime realm as a  whole. 

Blue Economy 

  • A "Focus Area" of IORA, the Blue Economy gained the attention of all IORA member states at the 14th IORA Ministerial Meeting in 2014 due to its potential for promoting employment, food security, and poverty alleviation, while promoting business models and the economies of member states both large and small. 
  • Led by Australia and India, two member states with well-defined plans for engaging in the Blue Economy, a formation of a Blue Economy policy for member states has been  relatively well-organized: platforms for cooperation on eco-tourism; the creation of the  Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, which regulates fishing in the Indian Ocean; 
  • The research and development of marine and bio-resources for medicinal purposes; and economic investment are some examples of the successful implementation of Blue  Economy proposals through IORA. 

OBSTACLES 

Diverse States, Diverse Objectives 

  • Though IORA's large membership affords it with the ability to understand perspectives of a wide array of nations in the Indian Ocean Region, it also creates differences in objectives, in what successful maritime security cooperation would look like, among member states.  
  • Economically and developmentally, IORA brings together some of the world's richest countries - the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Australia - with some of the poorest, such as Mozambique, and island nations with very low GDPs, such as  Seychelles; this creates uneven benefits from participation in IORA projects and can lead to economic competition and resentment among member states. 

Overlapping Regional Organizations 

  • IORA faces competition with other regional and international organizations for member states' attention and investments; in fact, 14 such bodies have IORA member states in their membership. 

Geopolitical Disputes 

  • Interstate conflicts have greatly hindered the strengthening of IORA, most notably through India's intentional exclusion of Pakistan from IORA membership. 
  • Though the India-Pakistan dispute has generally been terrestrial, it has manifested itself in IORA, as noted above; in the maritime realm; and in other regional maritime organizations.  
  • Pakistan and India have recently engaged in an arms race for nuclear submarine technology, with each state having equipped its navy with nuclear weapons to some extent.
  • In addition, recent Chinese involvement in the Indian Ocean Region, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative, has further sparked Indian distrust of a key nation in the strengthening of IORA, in this case, a dialogue partner. 
  • Though experts contend that Chinese involvement in the Indian Ocean Region has the potential to greatly benefit IORA proposals, especially those related to the Blue  Economy 
  • India sees such involvement as an attempt to shift power in the region from India to China and pushes back accordingly.

India’s Role

  • India continues to promote its official policy of “coordination, cooperation and partnership” in the regional maritime domain. 
  • As coordinator to the priority area on disaster risk management, India has published guidelines for IORA. It has also urged partners to join the Coalition for Disaster  Resilient Infrastructure launched at the UN in September 2019
  • India has been trying to emerge as the net provider of information in the IOR and in that direction it created the Information Fusion Centre located in Gurugram to assist member countries of IOR with real-time crisis information. Bangladesh, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Seychelles have been part of the information support structure of India. 
  • Indian policy takes into consideration that IOR is not an India-run maritime domain and that is reflected in the government's Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)  programme, which aims to turn the region more inclusive

Way ahead: 

IORA’s success would depend, to a large extent, upon what the middle powers of the Indian  Ocean littoral, like Indonesia, Australia and India, can do. Together the three countries have already breathed new life into an organisation that few had heard of. 

Also, India’s growing sea-borne trade and a historic power shift in the Indian Ocean compel  Delhi to pay greater attention to securing a sustainable regional order in the vast littoral.

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor