Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is an important multilateral platform in sustaining a dynamic multilateralism for a stable and secure regional order in the Indian Ocean region and also the wider Indo-Pacific region. India assumed the role of Vice Chair for IORA at the 23rd Meeting of the IORA Council of Ministers (COM) on 11 October 2023, in Colombo. It was at India’s initiative at the last COM meeting in November 2022 that IORA adopted its Indo-Pacific Outlook (IOIP). India, which has always stood for multilateral approaches and is committed to effective reformed multilateral institutions, has played an active role in IORA, since its inception. India has been one of the founding members of IORA when it was formed as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) as an inter-governmental organisation in March 1997. Later, it was during India’s Chairmanship form 2011-2013, that the institution was reinvigorated in 2013 with the current name as Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and the issue of maritime security was brought to the forefront as one of the IORA’s agenda with six priority areas listed to promote sustained growth and balanced development in the IOR. India as part of IORA’s Troika will be closely associated with it in coming years, as External Affairs Minister of India S Jaishankar, speaking at the Press Conference of the 23rd IORA COM in Colombo, in October 2023, said that “our common objective is to promote greater prosperity in the region and of making the Indian Ocean a free, open and inclusive space based on the UNCLOS”.
IORA and its Indo-Pacific Outlook
There is significant strategic and economic value attached to the Indian Ocean, which is one of the world’s busiest trade corridors with some of the most critical sea-lanes of communication for global commerce, most significantly the Malacca Strait in the east and Hormuz Strait on the west. Nearly half of the world’s container shipments, one-third of the world’s bulk cargo, and two-thirds of the oil shipments pass through the Indian Ocean. The centrality of the Indian Ocean, to many great civilizations, is well known and, in the present 21st century, the Ocean continues with its ancient splendor and its importance.
IORA is a prominent regional organization in the IOR, with 2.5 billion people residing in 23 Member States and 11 Dialogue Partners. IORA connects the three continents: Asia, Africa and Australia, and binds a diverse set of countries in the Indian Ocean region in a sense of a regional maritime community and a shared maritime space.
Given the growing economic and strategic significance of the Indo Pacific, the Indian Ocean region also has to be seen from the boarder lens of the Indo-Pacific. The Indian Ocean region, represented in IORA, is an essential part of the Indo-Pacific region and therefore a significant contributor to global the GDP. IORA plays an important role in institutionalising engagements, strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean community.
IORA adopted its Outlook for the Indo-Pacific, the IOIP, at the COM Meeting in November 2022. The grouping acknowledged India’s support, and said that, “in its quest to develop a statement to help guide IORA’s engagement and cooperation in the Indo Pacific region including with other regional organisations, India, as the lead country has been making all efforts to reach out to the IORA Member States in the process to develop and finalize the IORA Vision document on the Indo-Pacific”.
The IOIP emphasises on the growing interconnectedness between the two Oceans as fundamental to the Indo Pacific. It reiterates that IORA will work towards exploring opportunities of cooperation with the countries of the Indo Pacific region in IORA’S well-established six priority areas and two cross-cutting issues of immediate interest which are: Maritime Safety and Security; Trade and Investment Facilitation; Fisheries Management; Disaster Risk Management; Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation; Tourism and Cultural Exchanges; Blue Economy and Women’s Economic Empowerment. At the same time the IOIP also highlights that, cooperation will not be restricted to these areas only, and other issues of common interest and concern can be brought in to promote collaboration and cooperation among Member States and Dialogue Partners and also with other countries and organisations in the wider Indo-Pacific region.
The IOIP also emphasises IORA’s approach of building cooperation and understanding through a “consensus-based and non-intrusive approach”. Here the IOIP mentions that principles of IORA’s Charter are useful for the Indo-Pacific region as well which include: respect for sovereign equality, territorial integrity, non-interference in internal affairs, peaceful co-existence, promotion of principles of good governance, adherence with international law, in particular, the 1982 UNCLOS.
The key objectives of the IOIP are drawn from the priority areas of IORA and also expand it to include areas like connectivity, unsustainable debt, resilient supply chains, and equitable, transparent and non-discriminatory environment. 
Therefore, the IORA agenda is, indeed quite comprehensive and seeks to address issues that are significant to countries in the region for their collective growth and balanced development. Most of the countries in the region, islands, and coastal, are dependent to a large extent on the oceanic activities, for their survival and well being. With the IOIP, IORA looks at connecting the Indian Ocean to the wider Indo Pacific for the purpose of promoting cooperation and collaboration in the region in the areas of common interest and concern.
Convergences with India’s Vision for the Indo Pacific
For India, with its long and rich maritime heritage, an extensive coastline, significantly large EEZ and numerous islands, India’s interests in the IOR are vast. Around 90% of India’s trade by volume, including a large chunk of oil imports, comes through the sea routes in the region. Today, the Indian Ocean is one of the foremost priorities in India’s foreign policy. More so as the realisation of earlier pre-occupation with continental mindset in the country’s strategic thinking has gradually given way for an equibalance between the continental and maritime interests and concerns.
The seas and oceans are global commons; the philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ is deeply imbibed in Indian cultural tradition, and “is perhaps most vividly witnessed on oceans of the planet that connect us all”. India believes that sustainable harnessing of ocean resources and protection of marine environment is a necessity not just for the region but international community at large.
India works through regional institutions like IORA and with partners from within the region and beyond. In the words of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, “India views IORA as a platform for promoting sustainable development, economic growth and prosperity and stability in the region”.
IORA’s IOIP mentions about India’s ‘Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative’ (IPOI). Both these have elements of convergences. India’s flagship initiative of the IPOI, announced in 2019, seeks to build a community of stakeholders by creating partnerships with like-minded countries through practical cooperation in an open and inclusive manner. The pillars of IPOI are convergent with IORA’s priority areas and now with the areas highlighted in IOIP. The IOIP talks about “building cooperation through a consensus-based, evolutionary and non-intrusive approach” which is the core of India’s IPOI, which endorses an open, inclusive, non-treaty-based global initiative for mitigating challenges especially in the maritime domain, with a vision of a sustainable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. Members of IORA including Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, and France have already joined the IPOI and Vietnam is another country that has expressed interest in joining the initiative. These convergences create space for deepening engagements and streamlining efforts to promote cooperation.
AOIP and IOIP: Convergence and Cooperation
ASEAN is another important platform in the Indo-Pacific region. The role of ASEAN in providing regional security and economic architecture is crucial. IOIP also mentions about the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific (AOIP) as a ‘similar document’. The two Outlooks highlight similar areas, AOIP mentions about important principles and areas of cooperation that converge with IOIP such as transparency, inclusivity, a rules-based framework, good governance, respect for sovereignty, non-intervention, equality, mutual respect and respect for international law, maritime cooperation, connectivity, UN SDG 2030, economic cooperation etc.
Being the two important multilateral platforms in the Indo-Pacific region, the IORA and the ASEAN need to build greater synergies among their outlooks and initiatives. In this direction, recently, IORA and ASEAN have signed a MoU, on the on the sidelines of 43rd ASEAN and related Summits, held in Jakarta, Indonesia, in September 2023. The MoU aims to synergise work on the implementation of IOIP and strengthen cooperation between the two institutions for the benefit of their Member States. Since almost half of ASEAN member countries are members of IORA, namely: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand; the MoU therefore will enhance mutually beneficial cooperation between two multilateral forums in focus areas under AOIP and IPOI like blue economy, digital and green and technologies and such other areas. The MoU is a welcome step by regional institutions working towards the overall aim of stable and prosperous Indo Pacific region.
India, which also supports unified and prosperous ASEAN with a central role in the Indo-Pacific, was among the first few countries to welcome the AOIP. India’s IPOI and AOIP share “relevant fundamental principles in promoting peace and cooperation”. Now with the IOIP also, efforts need to be made to promote practical collaboration in the converging areas, in all the three initiatives and also involving relevant stakeholders. To begin with focus can be on the areas like maritime cooperation, connectivity, SDGs, resilient infrastructure and sustainable and resilient supply chains.
In the present time, regional and multilateral cooperation is indispensable to deal with wide variety of issues in the Indian Ocean and wider Indo Pacific region; here ‘maritime multilateralism’ through institutions like IORA is significant. IORA with its Member States and Dialogue Partners is committed to a robust approach in dealing with common challenges to maritime environment in the Indian Ocean region and also in promoting the agenda of sustainable use of Ocean resources. As the world moves towards greater rebalancing, multi-polarity in Asia and the world and fair globalisation practices with resilient and reliable supply chains; a free open and inclusive Indian Ocean and Indo Pacific region, is not only essential for regional security and prosperity but is also significant from a global strategic perspective. For that, the role of IORA continues to remain relevant for institutionalising engagements, and strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development in a holistic, integrated manner and the IOIP is a right step in that direction.
 IORA’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, IORA News, 14 April 2023
 , 11 Ocober 2023, https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/37183/Remarks+by+EAM+Dr+S+Jaishankar+at+the+Press+Conference+of+the+23rd+IORA+Council+of+Ministers+Meeting#:~:text=It's%20a%20great%20pleasure%20to,for%20the%20term%202023%2D25.
 Ibid, no. 1
 IORA’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, IORA News, 14 April 2023
 Text of PM's address at International Fleet Review 2016, 7 February 2016, https://pib.gov.in/newsite/PrintRelease.aspx?relid=136182
 Ibid no.4
 Ibid no. 4
IORA and ASEAN Sign MoU to Synergize Work on the Implementation of its Indo-Pacific Outlook, 06 September 2023, https://www.iora.int/en/events-media-news/news-updates-folder/iora-and-asean-sign-mou-to-synergize-work-on-the-implementation-of-its-indo-pacific-outlook
 ASEAN-India Joint Statement on Cooperation on the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific for Peace, Stability, and Prosperity in the Region, 28 October 2021, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://asean.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/71.-ASEAN-India-Joint-Statement-on-Cooperation-on-the-ASEAN-Outlook-on-the-Indo-Pacific-for-Peace-Stability-and-Prosperity-in-the-Region-Final.pdf