Why Does Indian Ocean Matter for IORA

Jakarta, IORA - A history is in the making through the first Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Leaders' Summit which will be held in Jakarta on March 7 by Indonesia as its Chair as an effort to promote the importance of Indian Ocean to the global affairs.

Being the world's third largest ocean, the Indian Ocean is home to around 2.7 billion people who live in the states whose shores are washed by the Indian Ocean's waters.

They are divided into a number of sub-regions along the coast of the Indian Ocean such as Australasia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, Eastern Africa, and Southern Africa.

"Indian Ocean has a strategic role in the international trade. Therefore, the ocean should be secure and safe," Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said during a final inspection on the IORA Summit's venue in the Jakarta Convention Center here on Saturday.

Although IORA will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in March 2017, as the current Chair of IORA, Indonesia will host the first ever IORA Leaders' Summit on March 7 in Jakarta under the theme "Strengthening Maritime Cooperation for a Peaceful, Stable, and Prosperous Indian Ocean".

The leaders'summit will be preceded by a Committee of Senior Officials' meeting on March 5 and a Council of Ministers' meeting on March 6.

It has been confirmed that representatives from all 21 member countries, seven dialogue partners, as well as 16 VVIPs will attend the summit.

The 16 VVIPs who have confirmed their attendance consist of five presidents, four vice presidents, four prime ministers, and three vice prime ministers.

South African President Jacob Zuma and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena have been confirmed to attend the IORA Leaders Summit before paying a state visit to Indonesian President Joko Widodo in March 8.

The summit is expected to result in several outcome documents, including the IORA Concord, the IORA Action Plan, and the IORA Declaration on Countering Violent Extremism leading to Terrorism.

"Indonesia is trying to contribute by putting a strong foundation in the Indian Ocean through the IORA Concord," said Minister Marsudi who was accompanied by Minister/ State Secretary Pratikno, Minister of Trade Enggartiarto Lukita and Director General for Asia-Pacific and African Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Desra Percaya during the inspection to the venue.

The IORA Concord is expected to be a reference for IORA member states in dealing with the current global situation and challenge in the region.

Many expected the summit to be a game-changer for regional cooperation in the Indian Ocean.

"A push from the leaders is necessary so that IORA could run faster and responsive to maximize its potentials" Minister Marsudi noted.

Meanwhile, Minister of Trade Enggartiasto Lukita stated that IORA offers a huge economic potentials for the member states.

Although the economic discrepancy between the developed and under-developed member countries is very much visible, IORA would be a forum to work together and fill each other, Lukita said.

"It would be the first opportunity in which business leaders and state leaders meet in the same forum," Lukita said.

Around 300 company CEOs of the member countries have been confirmed to attend IORA Business Forum which will be held as a side event on March 6.

"The tariff and nontarrif barriers still become the challenges. Those are what we need to come in one mind," Lukita said.

Statistics shows that the intra-IORA trade in 2015 amounted US$ 777 billion, a 300 percent increase compared to that in the 1994's, which was only US$ 233 billion.

According to the World Investment Report figures for 2014, the total Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows to IORA Member States amounted to US$ 229.7 million whilst outflows from IORA Member States amounted to a total of US$ 9.3 million.

IORA prioritizes several areas namely maritime safety and security, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk management, academic, science and technology, tourism and cultural exchange, blue economy and gender empowerment.

Today, IORA is a dynamic organization of 21 Member States including Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, and Yemen.

In addition, IORA also have seven dialogue partners, namely the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, Egypt, France and the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Meanwhile, Director General for Asia-Pacific and African Affairs of Ministry of Foreign Affairs Desra Percaya emphasized the importance of maintaining regional security in the Indian Ocean.

"During our strategic chairmanship, we don't want the Indian Ocean region to become a region in which major powers are fighting for power," Percaya said.

Therefore, the implementation of a good governance based on the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea is essential, he said during a press briefing earlier on Thursday.

The Indian Ocean has become a world's major shipping route which accounts for 70 percent of world's traffic of petroleum products.

It is not to mention the fact that the ocean provides abundant marine and fishery potential.

Withdraing an imaginary line from the Indian sub-continent to the south, the Indian Ocean, therefore, is split into two distinctive characteristics which have different challenges.

In the east, the ocean is home to major natural disasters such as tsunami which had devastated regions in countries along the coast of the Indian Ocean in 2004.

The asylum seeker crisis has also become a challenge in the eastern part of the ocean.

Meanwhile, the western waters of Indian Ocean is affected by man-made disasters such as sea piracy and conflict in Yemen.

"We don't want Indian Ocean to get messy," Percaya said.

Therefore, it would be the opportunity for Indonesia to play its role since IORA constitutes a realization of Indonesian maritime diplomacy to back up the country's vision on becoming a maritime axis, Percaya said.

The IORA Leaders Summit will be opened by a Troika, Indonesia as the current IORA Chair by President Joko Widodo, South Africa as the vice as well as future Chair by President Jacob Zuma and Australia as the previous Chair by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Through the Summit, Indonesia will underline the importance of connectivity to bridge and integrate the common interest and to improve cooperation between the states on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

Source: Antara