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Speech by MoS at the Inaugural of RIS Seminar on “Post-Pandemic Indian-Ocean Regional Economic Cooperation: Way Forward” in context of IORA

November 25, 2020

Excellency Dr. Nomvuyo Nokwe, Secretary General, Indian Ocean Rim Association Secretariat
Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General, Research & Information System (RIS)
Prof. S. K. Mohanty, Professor, Research & Information System (RIS)
Distinguished Speakers and Participants of the Webinar,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Namaskaram to all.

It is a pleasure to address this gathering on one of the most topical issue of our present time i.e. Post-Pandemic Economic Cooperation in the Indian-Ocean Region. I appreciate the efforts made by Research and Information System for Developing Countries in putting together this event under the current circumstances.

IORA is an important Architecture of the Indian Ocean Region and one of the important platforms for regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. It is the largest regional grouping in the Indian Ocean region with 22 Members, bringing together diverse viewpoints and novel ideas for the progress of the region. India is strongly committed to the strengthening of IORA by intensifying cooperation within its Member States and with the other groupings in the region to promote security, peace and prosperity in the Indian Ocean Region.

During its Chairmanship of IORA in 2011, India had worked for its revitalization and strengthening, in keeping with the emerging geo-strategic challenges that confronted the Indian Ocean Region. In the past few years, we have come further on the path of strengthening IORA through regular meetings, creation of new structures, increased efficiency for the Secretariat, enhancing greater cooperation with Dialogue Partners and taking concrete initiatives in various IORA priority and cross cutting areas.

Currently, we are all witnessing a major scale black swan event in the form of COVID-19 Pandemic that is impacting most of our established practices, norms and regulations and has emerged as the biggest disruptor. The primary impact of this disruption has been economic. The pandemic has underlined the importance of ensuring supply chain diversification and resilience. It has made countries re-assess their healthcare infrastructure requirements; focus on availability and affordability of medicines, as well as development of reliable supply chains for critical healthcare products. The world needs more trusted and capable players now.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

India has the willingness and capability to act as a responsible partner. Despite the present condition, India’s engagement with the world and especially the Indian Ocean Region has been guided by its ancient philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the world is one family. In today’s context, as a pluralistic and open society we are in sync with democratic sentiments and cognizant of our responsibilities. Even during the pandemic, India ramped up its pharmaceutical production – especially of hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol – to respond to growing global demands. We supplied medicines to 150 countries including various IORA Member States. Our medical teams were deployed to four of our neighbours who were in distress. The message to be drawn is that India with greater capabilities is not just helping itself but can be a force multiplier for good in the region. Strong multilateral cooperation is critical in our collective fight against the pandemic, ensuring efficient production and delivery of the vaccine in the near future. It is important to strengthen efforts aimed at the development of an equitable and universal access to diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines. India stands ready to collaborate with the Indian Ocean Region in its fight against the Pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also severely tested the resilience of all nations and has brought focus on the vulnerabilities of the existing supply chains. There is a global focus on economic resilience and recovery. In India, we have tried to make the fight against the pandemic a people's movement, by combining the efforts of Government and society. We have announced a package of more than USD 300 billion. It will bring the economy back on track, build modern infrastructure and put in place a technology-driven system. It is also reflected in the vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (or self-reliant India), articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It envisages making India an integral part of the global supply chains with a focus on promotion of international trade and commerce. We would like to join efforts with the countries of Indian Ocean Region in development of a diversified and resilient supply chain in the post pandemic era.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Here, I would like to highlight that our immediate challenges have not distracted us from broader strategic goals, especially in the Indo Pacific Region, where we are working with IORA and ASEAN to create an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. This has been the focus of our Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative announced by Prime Minister Modi in 2019 with an aim of collaborative solution to our common challenges and shared goals in the fields of Maritime security, Maritime ecology, Maritime resources, Capacity building and resource sharing, Disaster risk reduction and management, Science, technology and academic cooperation and Trade connectivity and maritime transport.

India has taken a lead on the pillar of Maritime Security and Disaster Risk reduction and Management under IPOI. India is also the lead country for Disater Risk Management priority area of IORA. Befitting to its commitments in this area, India has acted as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean Region and as a first responder in extending humanitarian assistance in times of natural disasters and maritime environmental incidents. Notable HADR missions in the Indian Ocean Region undertaken by India in recent years have included Operation Rahat in Yemen in 2015 – when India rescued and evacuated 6,710 persons, including 1,947 citizens of over 40 other countries; cyclone in Sri Lanka in 2016; the earthquake in Indonesia in 2019; Cyclone Idai in Mozambique; and flooding and landslides in Madagascar in January 2020 where Indian assistance was promptly provided. The current Pandemic has not impacted India’s commitment in this regard which was demonstrated by India’s response during the Oil Spill in Mauritius in August 2020 and Oil tanker fire in Sri Lanka in September 2020. Under IORA, India is also in the process of formulating a guideline on HADR. A common policy on HADR will further strengthen the Disaster Risk Management capabilities of IORA countries, most of which are prone to natural disasters.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since this webinar is going to have discussions on Economic Cooperation post-pandemic, I think it is pertinent to recall few suggestions that I made during the 19th Council of Ministers Meeting in Abu Dhabi in November last year. India believes that IORA will be more effective when we widen the circle of stakeholders. I mean, we should go beyond policy makers and academics and think about bringing in business and other stakeholders. This will help in finding practical ways and means for promoting intra-regional trade and investment within IORA. It would also bring in more equity in our efforts to promote prosperity in the region. Therefor, I would urge the participants of this webinar to deliberate on this important subject and make actionable recommendations for the consideration of policy makers.

Promoting intra-IORA tourism is another critical area. Tourism is one of the most affected sectors due to Covid-19 pandemic. As we all know many members of IORA depends on tourism for their economic sustenance. Therefore, more focus should be given for reviving the tourism industry in the IORA region. Since we are going through a health crisis of pandemic proportions, I would say, one can even think of Ayurveda and welness tourism as a step to revive tourism in the region.

India also sees value in greater intra-IORA work on the Blue Economy and on Science and Technology. The threat of pollution, especially plastic waste, oil spills, unregulated exploitation of resources like illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing needs to be tackled with creative solutions and people’s participation. At more basic level, we need more scientific work in understanding these threats in the IORA region, which in turn would need a focused and institutionalized approach from all our partner countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me conclude here by emphasizing that in this post-pandemic world, it is important that the countries of the Indian Ocean Region seek a collective solution to global challenges, including global recovery from the pandemic and reform of multilateral institutions. The pandemic has reaffirmed the centrality of multilateralism in our interconnected world for not only matters of international security but also international governance. We, within IORA must therefore look at cooperating more closely to strengthen our regional architecture for a diversified and resilient Indo-Pacific.


New Delhi
November 25, 2020

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