Ensuring regional cooperation

Saturday, 19 November 2011 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Following is the address delivered by Senior Minister of International Monetary Co-operation Dr. Sarath Amunugama, who was the Head of Delegation of Sri Lanka to the 11th IOR-ARC Council of Ministers Meeting in Bangaluru, India on 15 November.

Chairman, Excellency S.M. Krishna, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed a privilege to be in this beautiful garden city of Bangaluru for the 11th Council of Ministers Meeting of the IOR-ARC.

I wish to place on record here our thanks to the Government of India and to the Karnataka State authorities for the excellent arrangements for this meeting and for the warm hospitality extended to us.

The importance of the Indian Ocean and its littoral and small states needs no exaggeration. It is the third largest ocean, and the Indian Ocean Rim countries provide habitation to one-third of humanity.

In terms of economic value, the Indian Ocean is endowed with a large reservoir of energy, valuable minerals and food resources. It accounts for about 40 per cent of world’s gold, 90 per cent of diamonds and 60 per cent of uranium. At the moment, most of this wealth remains either unexploited or is traded as raw material.

The Indian Ocean also carries half of the world’s container shipping, one-third of bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of oil shipments. Sri Lanka’s new port at Hambantota lies in close proximity to these sea lanes.

Mr. Chairman, the IOR-ARC provides a forum for our countries to come together within the open regionalism framework to pursue trade liberalisation, trade and investment facilitation and sectoral cooperation since there are common interests among our nations apart from sharing common ocean.

Sri Lanka has been a committed member of this organisation and has always encouraged the process of dialogue for decision making. The various recommendations made by the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum and Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group need serious consideration in order to make our organisation more vibrant.

We need to be mindful that our organisation is based on the concept of open regionalism. Thereby we encourage Member States to engage in voluntary action and cooperation in bringing the region together. Thus there is an urgent need for us to identify common areas of interests and provide leadership to further those interests. I wish to dwell on some such areas for your consideration.

As I stated earlier, the Indian Ocean is known to contain natural resources, which are yet to be fully utilised. The exploitation of these resources requires careful monitoring and dedicated inter-state collaboration. In this process, maintaining the integrity of the regional environment is one of the most important common interests of the Indian Ocean littoral and small member States.

Observing and managing the environmental impacts of human interactions on marine ecosystems are essential both for resource conservation and human security in the Indian Ocean Region. Fostering cooperation at all levels of governance in order to minimise environmental insecurity and climate change related risks, particularly disaster management, should be a critical policy objective for us.

Let me focus on four areas where we should work together.

Firstly, promoting regional tourism in the Indian Ocean should be highlighted. Tourism promotes people-to-people contacts, enhances appreciation of each other’s cultures, reiterates the concept of pluralism, and strengthens the viability of both local and regional economies.

Secondly, the threat posed by climate change needs serious consideration by our Membership. Like the land mass contiguity among nation States, the ocean also connects countries. Therefore, it is imperative that we maintain a healthy and environmentally sustainable Indian Ocean. Climate change and global warning will bring unpredictable consequences which we may classify as non-traditional security threats. Cooperation among Member States on climate change and global warming is not only a possibility but an urgent necessity.

Thirdly, piracy in the Indian Ocean has become a serious concern for the Member States of IOR-ARC. Our association could be a good platform for cooperation in eliminating this growing menace.

The effective utilisation of ocean resources, biodiversity and bio-security could open a new chapter in enhancing food security for humanity. Protection of Ocean resources and developing new ways of using them to stimulate economic growth should be systematically and collectively dealt within the ambit of the ‘Blue Economy’ concept, which will increasingly come to the fore in the future.

It was only the other day that the world population reached seven billion. The world’s land-based food and mineral resources are being depleted at a rapid rate. A focus on the Blue Economy is badly needed because it is only the untapped resources of the ocean that can now come to mankind’s rescue.

Sri Lanka, mindful of such potential, has proposed the establishment of a Centre of Excellence on Ocean Sciences and Environment. The Sri Lanka Government has endorsed the establishment of such a Centre which is dedicated to fundamental and applied research on various aspects of ocean sciences and environment. The preliminary Concept Paper on the establishment of the centre has been circulated for the consideration by the Member States. We intend to utilise the best minds in our region to work at this centre.

Mr. Chairman, the other important area which we should put our heads together is how best we could augment intra-regional trade. Recent estimates have shown that intra-regional trade amongst the IOR-ARC Member States to be in the region of 20-25 per cent, which is a fairly significant figure.

As we discuss improving trading within the region, we should also consider various aspects connected with trade facilitation. Towards this end, Sri Lanka will be hosting an Asia Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum in 2012 in Colombo. Fifty per cent of our membership belongs to the Asia Pacific Region.

The Asia Pacific Trade Facilitation Forum wishes to have a wider reach by bringing the non-Asia Pacific IOR-ARC Member States. Sri Lanka believes such a Forum would bring the harmonisation among the other regional organisations such as ASEAN, SAARC and BIMSTEC together with UNESCAP.

In the recent past we have witnessed the proliferation of regional originations. That is a positive sign of ensuring regional cooperation, especially at a time when the global North is facing a financial crisis and a possible double dip into recession. Nonetheless, we also need to encourage greater interaction among such organisations within a wider regional approach and IOR-ARC is well positioned to do so.

Thank you.