Minister of Foreign Affairs Tilak Marapana said that Sri Lanka looks forward to a fruitful engagement in the two years ahead and reiterated its commitment towards the objectives of IORA at its Council Meeting, held in Durban, South Africa on October 19. Following are excerpts of the speech.
Sri Lanka looks forward to a fruitful engagement in the two years ahead
The global economic power centre is shifting rapidly to the East
The Jakarta Concord sets important standards and targets that would create a rules-based framework for us
The growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean is a vital factor for the progress of the region
When an association of countries in the Indian Ocean Rim (IORA) was initially conceptualized, in 1995, the legendary South African Leader Nelson Mandela gave vision to the organization by aptly describing this union as “The natural urge of the facts of history and geography should broaden itself to explore the concept of an Indian Rim of socio-economic co-operation and other peaceful endeavours”.
Twenty years after the formation of IORA as a single platform of the Indian Ocean Countries, as envisaged by Nelson Mandela, it is a unique occasion for us to gather in South Africa to continue the momentum and further advance all areas of cooperation under IORA.
The theme chosen by South Africa “IORA: Uniting the people of Africa, Asia, Australia and the Middle East through enhanced cooperation for peace, stability and sustainable development” is indicative of the new Chair’s commitment towards sustaining the progress made over the years and further strengthening of IORA. Sri Lanka looks forward to a fruitful engagement in the two years ahead and reiterates its commitment towards the objectives of IORA. Sri Lanka will extend its fullest co-operation to the new Chair, in all its deliberations and endeavors to provide leadership to the Association.
Bonds of friendships
The Indian Ocean is a vast body of water and our shores are washed by its waves creating firm bonds of friendship and co-operation among us. Close neighbours or far away friends, we all share this enormous common resource that has the potential to make the lives of our peoples better.
However, we need to act fast as time is of essence. The global economic power centre is shifting rapidly to the East. The Indian Ocean Region has an extraordinary opportunity to act on the synergies available in this emerging environment.
As you would recall, this year our leaders signed the Jakarta Concord, reiterating their commitment to the course of IORA. The Jakarta Concord sets important standards and targets that would create a rules-based framework for us to achieve the identified objectives within this Forum in the Indian Ocean region. We have the IORA Action Plan 2017 – 2021, adopted simultaneously with a clear road map for co-operation. We need to look at these broad frameworks of commitment, to make IORA a more vibrant organization and realize the vision of our leaders to the mutual benefit of our peoples.
Sri Lanka in this context supports the creation of a Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security, one of the six priority areas for collaboration. Sri Lanka would like to propose that as an internal arrangement this working group be divided into two sub working groups, one for Safety and the other for Security
The growing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean is a vital factor for the progress of the region. Managing competition and strengthening cooperation would be essential, given that both these economic and strategic security factors have a direct impact on the future of this region.
Freedom of Navigation is a historic norm upheld by all littoral states of the organization. Considering that the Indian Ocean carries half of the world’s container ships-one third of bulk cargo traffic and two thirds of oil cargo- and also considering the emerging non-traditional security threats to the Indian Ocean, it may be prudent that we enhance our collective security through additional mechanisms. In this regard I would like to refer to a proposal made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka, who envisioned a Code of Conduct that essentially provides a set of rules and conditions that would guide interactions between IORA member countries, based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. It will be a simplified arrangement for mutual convenience to strengthen the IORA unity, togetherness and cooperation, in order to ensure the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful maritime commerce and over-flight in the Indian Ocean. The Code of Conduct needs to be prepared on a consensual agreement as a facilitating arrangement for the benefit of the Indian Ocean countries.
Sri Lanka’s proposal
I recollect at this moment, Sri Lanka’s proposal in September 1970 to the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Lusaka to declare the “Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace”. We must endeavor to develop an “Indian Ocean Order” to safeguard the Indian Ocean Region. I believe this is the vision by our leaders when they reiterated their pledge in the Jakarta Concord “to build a more peaceful, stable and prosperous Indian Ocean Region”.
Sri Lanka in this context supports the creation of a Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security, one of the six priority areas for collaboration. Sri Lanka would like to propose that as an internal arrangement this working group be divided into two sub working groups, one for Safety and the other for Security. Sri Lanka would like to take the lead on the Sub-working Group on maritime security and propose to schedule a meeting of the Sub-working Group in 2018, on the margins of the “Galle Dialogue”, which is an annual international maritime conference being hosted by Sri Lanka, since 2010. Sri Lanka, as you are aware, is a country that championed in combatting terrorism which also involved maritime terrorism, piracy, human smuggling and weapon smuggling as well as other security issues. Hence, Sri Lanka, with its vast experience gained in the past in combatting all forms of terrorism is well poised to undertake more responsibility in the cooperation in maritime security matters. We are an active member of the Indian Ocean Forum on Maritime Crimes. We would be happy to provide our knowledge and expertise in the sub-group on Maritime Security, under the proposed Working Group on Maritime Safety and Security.
Sri Lanka is committed to the course of IORA and together with the member states and dialogue partners will be happy to contribute to the shaping of its destiny
Common Indian Ocean Identity
Sri Lanka is cognizant of the need to create a common Indian Ocean identity. It will further strengthen internal cohesiveness and cultivate strong people to people links. We must harness our historical affinities based on freedom of navigation, mutually beneficial trade and other peaceful endeavors. This collective identity should emphasize our ability to promote trade, educational partnerships, exhibitions and cultural engagements.
Accordingly, and as enshrined in the Jakarta Concord we must enhance trade and investments potential in the region, with specific interest to the development of Blue Economy, which could be the backbone of our collective growth, in the future. The potential of IORA to emerge as a powerful economic bloc is evident of the fact that our region represents a quarter of the global population and Blue Economy would be an intrinsic component of it.
Flow of goods and services
We should commit ourselves to increasing intra-IORA flow of goods, services and expedite in the field of trade and commerce, eventually reaching a free trade arrangement where we should be able to eliminate tariff and non-tariff barriers.
Sri Lanka, during the second Indian Ocean Conference held in Colombo recently, envisioned the need to establish an Indian Ocean Development Fund by IORA. This proposal merits consideration. Today, it’s a multi-polar world that is gradually taking its shape and in line with it, the global capital is also getting dispersed from one holder to multi stakeholders. In such a world order, it would be pragmatic to carefully craft the necessary financial armory for the future of the Indian Ocean Rim nations, by establishing an Indian Ocean Development Fund.
Sri Lanka as a committed member of IORA has already set out the mechanism to establish the IORA Centre of Excellence on Ocean Sciences and Environment, under the Ocean University of Sri Lanka. The Centre will be fully functional, with allocation of resources, from 2018, which will enhance our capacities on Ocean Sciences and related areas of research, study and cooperation.
Sri Lanka is a country that is thriving, in her socio-economic development process and our future lies in the Indian Ocean. It is our belief that if we all work together, the common objectives, sustainable peace and prosperity in our region can be undoubtedly achieved. The opportunities are there - waiting to be exploited – and with ingenuity and unity we should be able to forge ahead. Sri Lanka is committed to the course of IORA and together with the member states and dialogue partners will be happy to contribute to the shaping of its destiny. Towards this end, Sri Lanka would be pleased to offer leadership to the association as the Chair, for the biennial 2023-2025, with the support of the IORA family.