Minister of Foreign Affairs Tilak Marapana attended the 17th Council of Ministers’ Meeting (COM) of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in Durban, South Africa, on 18 October.
The meeting marked the commencement of the two-year period of South Africa’s leadership of IORA as its Chair for 2017-2019. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also assumed its position as the Vice Chair, which will enable it to become the next Chair of IORA in 2019. The meeting was attended by ministers and representatives from the 21 IORA member states and seven Dialogue Partners - China, Egypt, Japan, France, Germany, the UK and the US.
The ministers, taking guidance from the Jakarta Concord issued by the Heads of State and Government in March 2017 in Indonesia at the 20th Anniversary Leaders’ Summit, focused on implementing the Action Plan endorsed by the leaders.
The meeting also focused on increasing engagement with the Dialogue Partners for meaningful cooperation in advancing the objectives of IORA.
Addressing the meeting, Foreign Minister Marapana highlighted the importance of the Indian Ocean for the progress of the region and the need to strengthen cooperation among IORA member countries. He pointed out the importance of freedom of navigation as a historic norm that needed to be upheld by all littoral states if the opportunities provided by the Indian Ocean were to be harnessed for the mutual benefit of all.
Elaborating further, Minister Marapana stressed the requirement for developing an Indian Ocean Order that would provide a set of rules and conditions for peaceful engagement and interactions between IORA member countries based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He added that it will be an arrangement for mutual convenience to strengthen the IORA unity, togetherness and cooperation, in order to ensure the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce and over-flight in the Indian Ocean.
The Minister also proposed meeting the ministers to establish an Indian Ocean Development Fund by IORA, to craft the necessary financial armoury for the future of Indian Ocean rim nations.
Minister Marapana conveyed Sri Lanka’s support of the proposed Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security, one of the six priority areas of IORA. The meeting approved Sri Lanka as the lead coordinating country for the Maritime Safety and Security Working Group with the task of ensuring that progress is made under this important priority area of IORA.
The Minister also presented Sri Lanka’s proposal to be the Chair of IORA for 2021-2023 and thereby to become the Vice-Chair from 2019-2021. The council welcomed the proposals which will be submitted to the member countries for consideration.
As an outcome document of the Meeting of the Council of Ministers, the IORA Ministers adopted the Durban Communique which provided further impetus to the ongoing projects and work plans in IORA. The ministerial meeting was preceded by the Senior Officials Meeting and other meetings related to investment and trade and the academic group.