Basics and Backgrounds

  • The Indian Ocean Rim Association is an inter-governmental organizationwhich was established on 7 March 1997.
  • The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is a dynamic inter-governmental organization aimed at strengthening regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean regionthrough its 22 Member States and 10 Dialogue Partners.
  • It is a regional forum,tripartite in nature, bringing together representatives of Government, Business and Academia, for promoting co-operation and closer interaction among them.
  • IORA is based on the principles of Open Regionalism for strengthening Economic Cooperation particularly on Trade Facilitation and Investment, Promotion as well as Social Development of the region.
  • IORA’s apex body is the Council of Foreign Ministers (COM) which meets annually to discuss the developments of IORA.
  • The United Arab Emirates is the current Chair of IORA form October 2019-2021.
  • The Vice-Chair will be the People’s Republic of Bangladesh which would take Chair as from October 2021-2023.
  • Its Secretariat is based in Cyber City, Ebène, Mauritius.


  • Promoting sustained growth and balanced development within the Indian Ocean region, IORA strengthens cooperation and dialogue with Member States namely:
  • Commonwealth of Australia, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Union of Comoros, Republic of India, Republic of Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Republic of Kenya, Republic of Madagascar, Malaysia, Republic of Maldives, Republic of Mauritius, Republic of Mozambique, Sultanate of Oman, Republic of Seychelles, Republic of Singapore, Federal Republic of Somalia , Republic of South Africa, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, United Republic of Tanzania, Kingdom of Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Republic of Yemen.
  • All sovereign States of the Indian Ocean Rim are eligible for membership of the Association. To become members, States must adhere to the principles and objectives enshrined in the Charter of the Association.

Dialogue Partners

  • Dialogue Partners refer to individual sovereign states and not members of IORA, but with a special interest and/or capacity to contribute to IORA, particularly in the areas of common interest.
  • Dialogue Partners provide valuable assistance in the field of technology transfer, environmental issues, the promotion of trade and investment, technical cooperation and assistance to the Special Fund.
  • The Dialogue Partners of IORA are People’s Republic of China, Arab Republic of Egypt, France Republic, Republic of Germany, Republic of Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Republic of Turkey, United Kingdom and United States of America.


  • To promote sustainable growth and balanced development of the region and member states
  • To focus on those areas of economic cooperation which provide maximum opportunities for development, shared interest and mutual benefits
  • To promote liberalization, remove impediments and lower barriers towards a freer and enhanced flow of goods, services, investment, and technology within the Indian Ocean rim.

Priority areas

Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) has identified eight priority areas, namely:

  • Maritime security,
  • Trade and investment facilitation,
  • Fisheries management,
  • Disaster risk reduction,
  • Academic and scientific cooperation and
  • Tourism promotion and cultural exchanges.
  • Blue Economy
  • Women’s Economic Empowerment

The Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD)

  • The Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD) is a flagship initiative of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA).
  • It is originated in the 13th Council of Ministers meeting, held in 2013 in Perth, Australia.
  • The first IOD was held in Kerala, India in 2014,
  • Areas of discussion includes economic cooperation, maritime safety and security, blue economy, human assistance and disaster relief, etc.
  • The 6th Indian Ocean Dialogue will be held in New Delhi on 13th and 14th December 2019.

IORA Sustainable Development Program (ISDP)

  • The ISDP is a project-based program intended to meet the needs of the Member States of the IORA.
  • Project proposals are formulated by the Member countries in collaboration with IORA Secretariat.
  • As an instrument of sustainable development, the ISDP Program is expected to strengthen regional cooperation and forge new partnerships within the IORA Member States and with Dialogue Partners.

ISDP Objectives

  • Encouraging lesser developed member countries to participate in IORA.
  • Encouraging capacity building, peer-to-peer learning and sharing of information to IORA member countries.
  • Enhancing and strengthening bonds amongst member countries.
  • Extending opportunities to lesser developed member countries to share their experience and expertise in specific areas that would benefit their economies.
  • Encouraging less developed member countries to host various IORA events.


IORA faces several obstacles that prevent it from growing into a highly successful and influential regional organization; these issues range from structural deficiencies to geopolitical conflicts existing outside IORA that permeate the organization and prevent cooperation.

Diverse States, Diverse Objectives

  • Though IORA’s large membership affords it with the ability to understand perspectives of a wide array of nations in the Indian Ocean Region, it also creates differences in objectives, in what successful maritime security cooperation would look like, among member states.
  • Economically and developmentally, IORA brings together some of the world’s richest countries – the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, and Australia – with some of the poorest, such as Mozambique, and island nations with very low GDPs, such as Seychelles; this creates uneven benefits from participation in IORA projects and can lead to economic competition and resentment among member states.

Overlapping Regional Organizations

  • IORA faces competition with other regional and international organizations for member states’ attention and investments; in fact, 14 such bodies have IORA member states in their membership.

Geopolitical Disputes

  • Interstate conflicts have greatly hindered the strengthening of IORA, most notably through India’s intentional exclusion of Pakistan from IORA membership.
  • Though the India-Pakistan dispute has generally been terrestrial, it has manifested itself in IORA, as noted above; in the maritime realm; and in other regional maritime organization.
  • Pakistan and India have recently engaged in an arms race for nuclear submarine technology, with each state having equipped its navy with nuclear weapons to some extent.
  • In addition, recent Chinese involvement in the Indian Ocean Region, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative, has further sparked Indian distrust of a key nation in the strengthening of IORA, in this case, a dialogue partner.
  • Though experts contend that Chinese involvement in the Indian Ocean Region has the potential to greatly benefit IORA proposals, especially those related to the Blue Economy, India sees such involvement as an attempt to shift power in the region from India to China and pushes back accordingly.

19th Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers Meeting

  • The 19thIndian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers (COM) Meeting was held in Abu Dhabi (UAE).
  • Theme – “Promoting a Shared Destiny and Path to Prosperity in the Indian Ocean”.
  • South Africa was the chair for the period of 2017-2019.
  • The meeting was attended by IORA’s 22 Member States and nine Dialogue Partners.

India and Indian Ocean

  • India is a peninsular country which is surrounded by Indian Ocean on three sides. The geographical location of India makes Indian Ocean integral part of its foreign policy, security decision, trade etc.
  • At present, Indian Ocean carries about half of world’s container shipment, one-third of bulk cargo traffic and two-third of oil shipments.
  • Its littoral states are densely populated with over 40% of global population which makes it an attractive market.
  • It also carries 90% of India’s trade by volume and 90% of oil imports.
  • With the changing geopolitical equations of the world powers such as USA and China, importance of Indian Ocean has increased.
  • India is planning to expand and further invigorate IORA’s activities, from renewable energy and the blue economy to maritime safety and security, water science and greater institutional and think-tank networking.
  • Earlier 21-member states of IORA had issued a strategic vision document, known as the Jakarta Concord, that “sets out a vision for a revitalized and sustainable regional architecture’’.
  • Besides maximizing the potential of trade, investment and economic cooperation in the region, the Jakarta Concord also aims to address non-traditional issues, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, human trafficking, drug trafficking, illegal migration and piracy.
  • A Declaration on Preventing and Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism was also adopted last year.

Obstacles for India

  • At the time of Independence, India was at the heart of trade and capital flows across the Indian Ocean, deeply connected to the rest of the littoral through multiple corridors, and the very centre of regional security management.
  • India marginalised itself from the region’s economic and security dynamics due to its inward oriented policies.
  • By the time it came back to into the play in the new millennium, it finds huge obstacles for reclaiming the regional leadership of the littoral.
  • The rise of China has meant that Beijing has become a powerful economic force in the Indian Ocean. It has the resources and the will to develop regional infrastructure and connectivity.
  • In contrast, India’s economic liberalism is too weak to let it drive regional integration.
  • India cannot match the resources, financial or institutional, that Beijing brings to bear on Indian Ocean connectivity.
  • Its political class remains hesitant about building coalitions with other powers to improve India’s regional position.
  • Delhi’s defence establishment appears utterly unprepared to build real military partnerships in the littoral.

India’s Role in IORA

  • India continues to promote its official policy of “coordination, cooperation and partnership” in the regional maritime domain.
  • As coordinator to the priority area on disaster risk management, India has published guidelines for IORA. It has also urged partners to join the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure launched at the UN in September 2019.
  • India has been trying to emerge as the net provider of information in the IOR and in that direction it created the Information Fusion Centre located in Gurugram to assist member countries of IOR with real-time crisis information. Bangladesh, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Seychelles have been part of the information support structure of India.
  • Indian policy takes into consideration that IOR is not an India-run maritime domain and that is reflected in the government’s Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) programme, which aims to turn the region more inclusive.

SAGAR Policy

  • India’s inclusion in the IOC countries will help to broaden its Security and Growth for all in the Regional aka SAGAR Policy in the region.
  • Aim of SAGAR Policy –
  1. Increment of abilities for safeguarding land and maritime territories and interests.
  2. Reinforcement of economic and security collaboration in the zone.
  3. Activities for coping with natural disaster, maritime warnings like terrorism, theft, etc.

Recent developments in Indian Ocean:

  • India and Seychelles agreed to work together on a project to develop a naval base at the Assumption Island.
  • India signed a deal with Singapore to expand existing Indian access to Changi naval base.
  • India also contributes to the development of Agalega in Mauritius with dual-use logistical facilities.
  • India and France have signed the “reciprocal logistics support” agreement as part of which warships of both the nations would have access to each other’s naval bases.
  • India and the United States signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement in 2016, giving both countries access to designated military facilities for refueling and supplies.
  • India also secured access to the Port of Duqm in Oman for military use and logistical support earlier this year.
  • India and France have released a joint strategic vision for cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The vision establishes an open, inclusive and transparent cooperation architecture for peace, security and prosperity

Way Forward

  • India must focus on theIndian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). IORA’s mandate is to promote sustainable growth and balanced development in the region.
  • IORA needs to consider a special regional cooperation programme on Blue Economy.
  • Recently, India has been granted the observer status in Indian Ocean Commission (IOC).India can learn from IOC Bottom-up regionalism.
  • There is a need to make a tangible impact through Project Sagarmala,with a focus on port development, connectivity, port-led industrialisation, and coastal community development, in a timely and effective manner.
  • The role of the Coast Guard Agenciesin all the Indian Ocean littorals becomes critical Therefore, SAGAR vision should now be expanded to include the coast guard agencies of the IOR littorals countries.
  • SAGAR vision 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 Goals.


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