Economic Diplomacy offers path to Indian Ocean prosperity

  • Articles and op-ed
09 October 2014

AUSTRALIA has the great fortune of being situated in the most dynamic and diverse region in the world — the Indo-Pacific. While we are well-versed on the Asia-Pacific and its economic potential, the Indian Ocean does not enjoy the same focus.

However, Australia’s Indian Ocean coastline is longer than our Pacific Ocean equivalent and our economy is buoyed by our engagement with nations to our north and west.

Australia chairs the Indian Ocean Rim Association, which sits alongside APEC, the East Asia Summit, the Pacific Islands Forum and others in underlining our strengthened engagement in the Indo-Pacific. It is the preeminent multilateral body for those countries whose shores are lapped by the Indian Ocean.

Our two-year chairmanship provides us the opportunity to broaden our horizons by strengthening the region as a common economic and strategic resource. This will contribute to our shared prosperity — and through greater prosperity, greater regional stability.

This is the government’s economic diplomacy agenda in action. Just as traditional diplomacy sought to promote peace, economic diplomacy seeks to promote peace and prosperity. Australia has a major role to play in key challenges of this century — food, water and energy security — all areas that play to our strengths.

This week, Australia hosts foreign ministers and officials from 20 member nations, and six dialogue partners, for the IORA Council of Ministers’ Meeting in Perth. IORA member states comprise about 30 per cent of the world’s population — about two billion people. The Indian Ocean rim has some of the world’s fastest growing economies, driven by large populations and huge reserves of natural resources.

The most significant of these resources is arguably the ocean itself — a conduit of our common interest and a conveyor of our wealth.

Some 100,000 vessels pass through the Indian Ocean region each year, as do two thirds of the world’s oil tankers, one third of container traffic and one third of bulk traffic.

There is strong interest in Australian expertise in mining equipment, technology and services. It is a region of great diversity — of cultures, religions, economies, political systems and historical experiences.

Australia’s trade and investment relations with the region reflect this diversity, ranging from major partners to niche markets. Last year merchandise trade between the 20 Indian Ocean countries was worth almost $1.3 trillion, about 3.5 per cent of global trade. Over the past five years intra-IORA regional trade has grown at almost 9.5 per cent per year.

This is a promising trend, but there is more we can do to encourage regional economic integration and growth. Australia is keen to expand trade and investment within the region through co-operative and co-ordinated action to stimulate activity between our economies.

There is potential to do more in fisheries, exploration for minerals, development of renewable energy as well as tourism. These industries can stimulate growth, create jobs and improve our collective food and energy security.

Australia will drive economic co-operation as a common interest between IORA states.

We will make the case to IORA ministers that the Indian Ocean can offer the same strategic and economic connections that we have seen in the Pacific. Australia will seek agreement on economic principles as a way to boost growth and prosperity in the Indian Ocean region.

We’re backing these efforts with resources through a targeted program to promote prosperity in the Indian Ocean — the IORA Economic Diplomacy Fund. The fund will support activities that facilitate trade and investment, strengthen fisheries management, bolster maritime security and safety, and promote academic and scientific cooperation.

The empowerment of women is central to the IORA agenda.

We are championing economic diplomacy in our neighbourhood and across the globe — and our sights are firmly set on the Indian Ocean.

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