Advocating deeper economic ties in the Indian Ocean region and emphasis on maritime security, India on Friday pitched for more robust "cooperative regionalism" and said the geo-strategic importance of the area cannot be underestimated.
"As focus of global economic growth shifts to Asia, it will occupy even greater salience in our strategic perspective," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said in his address at the ministerial meeting of the 20-nation Indian Ocean Rim-Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) in Gurgaon.
"We envision IOR-ARC as a regional body that can respond effectively to this need and enhance our individual and collective capacities to deal with contemporary challenges facing our common maritime domain," he said on the concluding day of the five-day conference.
Khurshid stressed that IOR-ARC should be strengthened to enable it to rise to expectations of the region.
The grouping was set up in 1997 with the primary objective of promoting sustained growth and balanced development of the region and of its member states.
"IOR-ARC has helped promote understanding and cooperation amongst our countries over these years, yet immense untapped potential remains," the minister said. The theme for today's deliberations is "IOR-ARC at 15 -- the Next Decade".
"In our view, the objective of this exercise should be to lay down a roadmap and agenda for our Association for the coming years that will eventually establish IOR-ARC as an apex organisation for the Indian Ocean region," Khurshid said.
He pointed out that the region is characterised by great diversities in size, population and levels of development.
"A prospective roadmap for our association must therefore be inclusive, taking IOR-ARC forward at a pace acceptable to all.
"Secondly, in facilitating the creation of a regional climate conducive to peace and prosperity, IOR-ARC should aim at opening as many channels of communication and cooperation amongst its membership as feasible," the minister said.
"It must thus be comprehensive, an integrated effort bringing together governments, civil society and business and deepening people-to-people contacts," Khurshid said.
He said that the organisation's agenda must reflect common regional interests that hold value for its membership.
The minister recalled the last meeting held in Bengaluru in November 2011 that had identified six priorities for the association's work -- maritime security and safety, disaster risk reduction, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, academic and science and technology cooperation, and tourism and cultural exchanges.
"Each of these areas has its own relevance for us. Here I would like to touch on just three aspects. IOR-ARC follows an approach best defined as 'cooperative regionalism'.
"Economic cooperation is at the core of our collective effort, and we need to consider appropriate initiatives aimed at meeting the developmental, energy and food security needs of our region, new infrastructural linkages with enhanced connectivity, and trade and investment facilitation that builds on the complementarities in our economic strengths," he said.
"Capacity-building and skilling in all our identified priority areas is a cross-cutting need, which IOR-ARC can also address," he said, adding that economic development cooperation requires a conducive environment to flower.
"Security of maritime commerce and safety of seafarers are of concern to all of us. There is a need, for example, to be more precise in defining high risk areas in the Indian Ocean, based on actual incidents of piracy, as this impacts adversely on insurance premiums and adds to the cost of shipping in our region," he said.
India will host an IOR-ARC seminar on maritime security in early 2013, and "we should consider its institutionalisation as a regional forum for continuing exchange of views and monitoring of the situation," he said.
The minister said the member states should find ways and means of providing greater structure to the IOR-ARC process, and enhancing the capacity of the Secretariat to support this effort.
Image: External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid