IOR- ARC: 15 years old and at a crossroad-Regional body calls for increased trade


Delegates at the IOR-ARC council of ministers meeting

The IOR-ARC, one of the world's largest regional groupings with 20 member states linked by one ocean, has assessed that while a lot has been achieved since 1997, after 15 years the time has come to evaluate and review the achievements, the challenges and obstacles in order to further improve the work of this association.

It appears the grouping, which has one of world's most important maritime lanes, through which passes 80% of the world's oil, is finding itself at an important juncture.

There was an estimated  US $770 million worth of intra-regional trade in 2010, which is a 10% increase on the previous year, despite difficult times for trade amid a global economic meltdown.
Addressing other delegates on Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Paul Adam – who was representing Seychelles at the November 2 meeting in Gurgaon (one of New Delhi’s major satellite cities) --  said that while during the first half of this year, 56% less pirate attacks have been recorded, compared to the same period last year, there is still no room for complacency.

He noted that even as the attacks go down, insurance and shipping costs go up persistently, pushing up the prices of goods.

Mr Adam told other delegates of the setting up soon of a regional coordination centre against piracy in Seychelles as part of global efforts to counter the scourge, which is affecting other east African and island states as well as countries to the north, such as Yemen and Oman.

The signing of the accord providing for joint management of the Mascarene Plateau by Seychelles and Mauritius earlier this year and notification of the treaty to the United Nations was highly commended by some participants, including Australia.

Mr Adam later told Seychelles Nation and SBC that since India took over the chairmanship in November last year, there has been new dynamism in the IOR-ARC.

India will remain head of the IOR-ARC for two years, after which it shall be succeeded by Australia.

Mr Adam said the region has strong potential, which represents more economic opportunities to tap.

He added that though Seychelles also belongs to other regional groupings, such as the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), belonging to the IOR-ARC is complementary, offering increased possibilities for new partnerships.

The new Indian Minister for External Relations, Shri Salman Khurshid, said that India has taken the agenda forward and a number of activities are being undertaken in each of the priority areas identified since last year's meeting in Bangalore.

Minister Adam meeting the Indian External Affairs minister Shri Salman Khurshid

These, he said, include maritime safety and security, disaster risk reduction, trade and investment facilitation and tourism promotion.

Like Seychelles, Oman is also viewing piracy and illegal fishing with concern, and is proposing the establishment of a regional Indian Ocean Rim Maritime Transport Agency. The Omani Minister for Foreign Affairs, Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, proposed that all fishing vessels operating in the Indian Ocean should register with the secretariat of the IOR-ARC in Mauritius.

Oman also proposed carrying out an assessment study of fish stock management in the Indian Ocean, including ways and means on how to sustain and possibly increase fish stocks in the region.   
The council of ministers, besides admitting the Comoros as the association's 20th member, also welcomed the USA as its sixth dialogue partner. The five others are China, Japan, Egypt, France and UK.

The Indian External Affairs minister later told the press that since the US has an important role in world governance, “its presence as a partner will add value to the organisation”.