Bangalore: India on Tuesday for the first time became chairman of the Indian Ocean Rim countries grouping at its ministerial meeting in this tech hub.
External Affairs Minister SM Krishna assumed chairmanship of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) at its 11th Council of Ministers meeting here. The regional grouping was set up 15 years ago to promote economic and cultural relations among the 18-member countries.
"Over six decades ago, our first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, envisioned a grouping of countries bordering the Indian Ocean that could help one another in tackling common challenges," Krishna said, inaugurating the meeting after taking the chair for the next two years from Yemen, the previous chairman.
Noting that the key east-west arteries of international trade, especially in commodities and energy sources sail through the Indian Ocean, Krishna said maritime security impacts strategic security of the nations in the region.
"As the Indian Ocean is an integral part of our collective destiny, we need a holistic vision for a cooperative response to the challenges in the region," Krishna told his counterparts and other cabinet ministers representing the respective countries.
Though technology and rising cost of natural resources made harvest of new resources from the sea beds economically viable, sustainability of economic development in the ecologically challenged world will require efficient management of shared seas.
"Conservation and sustainable harvesting are vital for the security of our marine food resources," Krishna pointed out.
Admitting that piracy on the high seas in the Indian Ocean became a major challenge, Krishna said the menace was increasing the cost of trade directly and higher insurance premia and human cost indirectly to the shipping industry.
"We need to build upon existing national, regional and multilateral measures to enhance coordination to combat piracy," Krishna told the members.
To enhance the security of waters in the ocean, Krishna advocated building functional relationships between navies and coast guards.
"Our port and customs authorities, as well as our shipping firms have to address issues of transport infrastructure and connectivity that hinder trade," Krishna noted.
Expressing concern over the limited growth of intra-regional trade due to poor connectivity, market complexities and inadequate trade facilitation, the new chairman called for rectifying the situation by increasing intra-regional investment flows.
"Our intra-regional investment flows are modest, though many of our economies are important destinations for foreign direct investment from outside the region," Krishna stated.
The regional bloc in which India is a founding member, was set up in Mauritius in 1997 with Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Yemen as the member-countries.
Seychelles, which left the organisation in 2003, re-joined Tuesday to become the 19th member of IOR-ARC.
The association has also five dialogue partners - Egypt, Japan, China, Britain and France and two observers - Indian Ocean Tourism Organisation (IOTO) and Indian Ocean Research Group (IORG).
Of the member-countries, Australia, Bangladesh, Iran, Malaysia, Mozambique, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, the UAE and Yemen are represented by their respective foreign or deputy ministers, while senior officials of other countries are attending the day-long meeting.