Excellencies and distinguished delegates:
I am delighted to address this 8th edition of IORA’s premier track 1.5 forum, the Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD). I am glad that the discussions among the various stakeholders on the chosen themes during the dialogue namely, Embracing e-Health to fight COVID-19; Investments in e-Education; Development through Digital Technologies; and Digital shipping, Smart ports and Trade, have been in keeping with the well established spirit of open and free flowing dialogue on issues of shared interest and common concern facing the region and beyond. The still continuing COVID-19 global pandemic has aptly been the overarching context of the dynamic deliberations at this forum.
2. While it would have been our preference to have the dialogue in person as in the pre-COVID-19 times, I am satisfied that the momentum of this robust engagement could be kept going despite the challenges by means of use of digital platform in line with the theme of the Dialogue.
3. The Indian Ocean is one of the most economically vibrant regions of the world and our ties are deeply rooted in our shared history, geography, culture and economies. This has been further energised in recent years by virtue of the growing awareness of the potential they hold for mutual interests and development.IORA Member States have immense scope for engagement in the various key areas highlighted during the Dialogue such as Health, Education, Trade & Development and it is important that we share our national experience and best practices with each other. Together we need to develop innovative and frugal approaches to solve our shared problems in the region.
4. For this, IORA also needs to be best positioned to respond to the issues of the day as well as set the tone for engagement in the region based on a vision of the Indian Ocean region and the greater Indo-Pacific as a free, open, inclusive and rules based region of peace, stability & prosperity. IORA needs to leverage the Indo-Pacific which is formed by the confluence of the two oceans, more proactively and synergistically towards our shared goals and in accordance with the principles of the IORA Charter.
5. In this regard, IORA stands to gain from India’s vision of SAGAR which means "Security and Growth for All in the Region” as well the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI) of 2019. India’sapproach to the region is based on a free, open, inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific. It lays emphasis on respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations in the region, peaceful resolution of disputes, avoidance of use or threat of use of force, and adherence to international laws, rules and regulations. Further, the seven pillars of IPOI cooperation based on a structure light and cooperation heavy approach have great resonance with the priority areas of IORA and constitute potential areas for convergence and partnership. The Vision Document currently being discussed in IORA at the Senior Officials’ level in line with the mandate of the Council of Ministers thus needs to be finalized at an early date. Its objective should be a multi-faceted engagement with all countries in the region and those with interests in it with a maritime-forward perspective and using a structure-light and cooperation-heavy framework, encompassing political, security, economic, and socio-cultural spheres, aimed at Security And Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR).
6. The various sessions of the 8th IOD have rightfully focused on the social sectors of health and education and the issues of development through digital technologies and trade. From the prolonged crisis, four areas have come into sharp focus for international economic cooperation namely, resilient and reliable supply chains, health security, digital for development and green and sustainable recovery. These four elements could constitute the core agenda for recovery in addition to diversification, de-risking, expansion and transparency in economies. There is a need to promote greater business linkages, tourism and trade & investment in the region and beyond.
7. IORA being the pre-eminent regional organisation has a key role to play to foster cooperation among its members and dialogue partners to fully leverage new and emerging technologies whilst addressing the issues of digital divide and inclusion. Ideas such as creation of virtual networks and digital maritime infrastructure based on Industry 4.0 standards, integration of supply chains, streamlining and enhancing of financial and investment flows, mobility of specialists and professionals inter alia should be fully explored.This should be realized by means of the agenda and work of both the existing IORA functional bodies such as the Working Group on Science, Technology and Innovation (WGSTI), the IORA Academic Group etc. as well as new bodies, if and as required. The new areas and paths for collaboration that have been enthusiastically discussed and identified today need to be vigorously followed up with tangible steps and concrete actions.
8. The Dhaka Communique adopted by our Ministers at their 21st annual meeting held on 17 November 2021 under the able Chairship of Bangladesh, reflects the solidarity and cooperation shown by IORA Member States especially during COVID-19 pandemic, the resolve for future endeavors and brings out IORA’s forward looking agenda under the theme “Harnessing the opportunities of Indian Ocean sustainably for inclusive development” in the 25th anniversary year of the Association.
9. We are satisfied that the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the IOD have been finalized by the IORA Member States during the recently concluded 21st Council of Ministers and 23rd Committee of Senior Officials meetings held from 15-17 November 2021 and would provide useful guidance in terms of process, funding, logistics, outcomes and responsibilities for the future editions of the dialogue. A robust, free and open exchange of ideas and experiences among all stakeholders is critical to ensure the very life and purpose of the Association.
10. I take this opportunity to renew and reiterate India’s commitment to deepening and strengthening its relationship within and with IORA by contributing constructively to its agenda and work. I sincerely thank the ICWA for co-hosting this dialogue and the IORA Secretariat for providing necessary technical and logistical support.