Regional Corporation and Indian Ocean Rim (IORA)

This article was written by Deepansh Tripathi, a student of Institute of Law, Nirma University, Ahemdabad.


For development of any country “Trade” (import and export) is very important and for trading we mainly have three ways- Air, Land and Water, right? So in this article our focus will be on Water Routes.

Research Questions:- To what an extent oceans plays an important role in trading? , Does being a country surrounded with ocean on three side is helpful or harmful (prone to attacks)?, All countries who are connected by common ocean coming together and forming association will it going to help economically?, Why we overlook such an important resource of ours for so long? This article will try to answer these aforementioned issues.

We humans always have a habit of crying for What we do not have and Ignore the things what we are have. Similar mistake India did, we ignore a very useful resource what we had for so many years, our own “Indian Ocean”. We overlooked its enormous potential which we are realizing now after so many years and now we are realizing how strategically important it is, the Indian Ocean Region remains one of the most important regions for trade in the world.  Its location is very crucial as it lies in sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that are important to the global economy.[1]  The Indian Ocean channels carry two-thirds of the world’s oil shipment, one third of the bulk cargo and half of all container traffic, all this shows that its significance is quite unquestionable.[2]

Indian Ocean is not only important for our Nation but Internationally also it’s a very important passage for trade for many countries.

This topic is directly connected with Economic development because in the era of globalization if you want to capture over a country or if you want to destroy a country it can be easily done by stopping the trade and putting economic embargo on that country. Economy plays a very important role in today’s world if it has the strength to make a country it also has the strength to break the country. IORA on the very first placed formed by the objective to gain economic benefit this region. The primary objective of all the countries coming together and forming this association is to gain economic advantage so that this can lead to the development of their countries.

Now let us see what IORA is?, Why and how it was formed?, Who all are the members of this initiative?

Formation –It was formed on 29-31 March 1995, Mauritius Government organized a meeting to discuss the enhancement of economic cooperation, so that various countries can put their views.[3]

Background– Indian Ocean region is culturally very diverse and rich whether be it in languages, religions, traditions, arts or cuisines. The countries of the Indian Ocean Rim vary a lot in terms of their areas, populations and levels of economic development. All countries are part of different regional groups, (Australasia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and Eastern & Southern Africa), each with their own groups (such as ASEAN, SAARC, GCC and SADC, to name a few).  Although having so much diversity, these countries are bound together by the Indian Ocean.[4]

Membership- The IORA is an international organization with 21 members- Australia, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Indonesia naming a few. Few countries are having status of dialogue partners are: UK, US, Japan, Germany, France, Egypt and China.

How IORA is beneficial to different countries

Projects under IORA

  • Special fund– The establishment of this program was back in 2008. It was formed with the objective of providing financial support for all the member state, so that it will help them in complementing the Projects and Programs adopted by the Association. The mission of the Special Fund is to support countries by providing financial assistance to them or help in fund rising because economic condition of every country is not same. Every member state participated in this because if today well versed countries help the less developed countries, in a longer run it will be fruitful for everyone. Our prime minister’s one phrase can be used here “sab ka sath, sab ka vikas”.
  • ISDP (IORA sustainable development program)-As different country have different social and economic capabilities. Some country of IORA are G20 members where as some are situated at other end of the spectrum. The objective of this program is to encourage less developed member state. [5]

But, every coin has two faces when there are pros and there are also corns attached to it-

IORA connect many countries, this provide easy flow of goods/services technology in different countries. But with every good thing, risk is inherent in it.

Recall the attack of 26/11. Terrorist came to India from the same passage which we right now see as a way to develop our country. What member nation has to do is that now any such attack on one country will be seem as a attack on every country.

Who will Keep the natural resources – Day by day countries are  becoming better in technical capacities can better harvest, prospect and make economic largesse from ocean resources—mainly natural resources. Now this has raised the concerns of countries that which country will have larger share in Natural resources of Indian Ocean. Right now in high seas all the activities of extraction of resources are happening without any governance mechanism.

What IORA member state needs to do is to develop strategy for intergovernmental negotiations which will be supervise by the UN to safeguard the resources and benefit sharing mechanism in Indian Ocean region. And no particular country will have monopoly in it. And this leads us to a question that- Who will be governing the sea?

Only 10 countries globally account for 90 per cent of patents related to marine genetic resources according to an article published in Science in 2011.[6]

Another major area which all member state has to focus on is Illegal Trading.

Some other Issues with IORA, Most of the countries in IORA are poor, underdeveloped and some of these facing most difficult security challenges, including even non-traditional security threats as piracy, smuggling and transnational crime. This region is highly susceptible to natural disaster. These countries are also facing food and water security issues. This region will also be most dramatically affected by the consequences of climate change, such as rising sea levels and warming ocean temperatures.[7]

IORA remains the only grouping with a pan-regional agenda, while there are large number of sub-regional groups such as the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC), Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), or others such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), that address critical issues within their particular remits.

On an International front we have to deal with China, as it is playing its own game – China want to gain dominance over the region. The motive of China investing $20 Billion dollar in ‘silk route’ is surely not for welfare of everyone, Silk Route will connect East Africa, Gulf countries and South East Asia. This has increased our concern- said Arindam Mukherjee (secretary of Kolkata-based Institute of Social and Cultural Studies). “India has thousands of years of cultural and trade linkages with the IORA countries. Moreover, China is now proposing that the name of Indian Ocean be changed, and holding multiple conventions in various provinces to promote the Maritime Silk Road,” said Mr. Mukherjee.[8] All these acts clearly show the double standards of China.

“A Green Economy in Blue World” this came out from World Conference of Sustainable Development. How Blue (ocean/sea) can be a Economy for us, advantage of ocean are— Oceans provide a substantial portion of the global population with food and livelihood, it’s a route of transportation for 80 per cent of global trade. The sea also offers vast potential for renewable “blue energy” production from wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass sources.[9]

Seychelles became one of the first countries in the world to create a Department of Blue Economy, with a minister to oversee its role.

Ways to boost exports

India and several other nations bordering the Indian Ocean have decided to evolve a regional mechanism for cooperation on Special Economic Zones (SEZ) – or duty-free enclaves with tax holidays to boost exports.

Participants also considered the proposal to form a “joint FTZ- Free Trade Zone” among the IOR Association (IORA), similar to Eurozone, member countries since most of these FTZs are situated or are being built in coastal regions.[10]

Special Economic Zones helps in manufacturing sector, creating jobs, generating exports and foreign exchanges according to World Bank (Trade & Competitiveness Global Practice) report. Now more and more countries have begun to implement this for their industrialization process, especially as a way of attracting foreign direct investments.

How to bring things on the right Track

  • First, establish an expert committee of legal and policy experts from member countries to prepare inputs for the legally binding multilateral agreement.
  • Second, identify options and areas for designating as special ecologically and biologically sensitive areas to ensure such areas receive additional protection and sustainable management provisions.
  • Third, IORA needs to consider a special regional cooperation program on Blue Economy. This program should not only tap the potential of oceans and marine areas for economic development of member states but also consider focusing on contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal.
  • Fourth, IORA member states should develop regional and sub-regional climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and build the capacities and resilience of people dependent on the oceans for livelihoods.

In 2011 Council of Ministers’ meeting in Bangalore focuses on six priority areas was thus highly pragmatic. The six areas (to which “gender empowerment” was subsequently added), are:

  • Maritime safety and security
  • Trade and investment facilitation
  • Fisheries management
  • Disaster risk management
  • Academic, science and technology co-operation
  • Tourism and cultural exchanges.[11]

India along with IORA could transform the region, and instead of focusing just on Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), as envisioned by Prime Minister Modi during his recent visit to Mauritius, could focus instead on Sustainability and Growth for All in the Region.[12]

Finally someone understood and addressed the importance of Oceans

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used his visits to Seychelles and Mauritius to enunciate a proactive vision of India’s interests and responsibilities in this sensitive region. It is indeed the clearest expression yet by an Indian leader of what the Indian Ocean and the region around it mean for our nation. “We seek a future for Indian Ocean that lives up to the name of SAGAR — Security and Growth for All in the Region,”[13]

By inviting Seychelles and Mauritius to join the existing maritime security cooperation arrangement among India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister signaled that India is ready to play a pre-eminent role in the region. Without referring to China and the United States, the Prime Minister said India had to recognize that there were “other nations around the world” with a strong interest and stakes in the region. That is a very good strategy to bring all small nations, it will help in future.[14]

A reiteration of this came earlier from the minister of state for defense “Many nations depend on the waters of the Indian Ocean for trade and energy supplies and it is our duty to ensure that our littorals are not used in a manner prejudicial to our interests”, he said. India should also step up its multilateral engagement to make the region an engine for socio economic development and sound environmental management.[15]


It appears that, on balance, IORA is the most suitable multilateral vehicle for the Indian Ocean region. That said, however, while there is nothing wrong with being ambitious, if IORA is to actually achieve some tangible outcomes in as short a time as possible, it appears best at this point that the focus is restricted to just the four “super priority” areas, with a definite emphasis on maritime security as a means of laying the foundation for achieving the others.

Thus, what is needed is not a replacement for IORA but, rather, an expansion (of its membership to include Pakistan, Maldives, Saudi Arabia and Burma/Myanmar, with the European Union as a dialogue partner), and a narrowing – albeit temporarily – of its focus areas so as to maximize its ability to achieve a small number of tangible outcomes that can be built upon subsequently. That initial goal achieved, its focus should then be appropriately widened.[16]


[1] Leighton G. Luke (manager of Indian Ocean research Programme), IORA: Replace, Reuse or Refine?, March 4, 2014.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA): Replace, Reduce or Refine?

[2] Mr. Modi’s Ocean view, The Hindu, March 17, 2015




[6]Redefining SAGAR in India, The Hindu, May 26, 2015

[7] Leighton G. Luke (manager of Indian Ocean research Programme), IORA: Replace, Reuse or Refine?, March 4, 2014.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA): Replace, Reduce or Refine?

[8]Indian Ocean conference will discuss strategic challenges, The Hindu, March 16, 2015

[9] Redefining SAGAR in India, The Hindu, May 26, 2015

[10] Indian Ocean Rim Nation to boost Cooperation on SEZs , The Hindu, NEW DELHI, May 25, 2016

[11] Leighton G. Luke (manager of Indian Ocean research Programme), IORA: Replace, Reuse or Refine?, March 4, 2014.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA): Replace, Reduce or Refine?

[12] Redefining SAGAR in India, The Hindu, May 26, 2015

[13] Mr. Modi’s Ocean view, The Hindu, March 17, 2015

[14] Mr. Modi’s Ocean view, The Hindu, March 17, 2015

[15] Hema Ramkrishnan, ET Buraeu, Why India must be a leading player in the Indian ocean region, The Economic Times, September 1, 2015.

[16] Leighton G. Luke (manager of Indian Ocean research Programme), IORA: Replace, Reuse or Refine?, March 4, 2014.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA): Replace, Reduce or Refine?

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