Greater integration of Indian Ocean neighbours is needed to address common challenges posed by terrorism and illicit maritime activities, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih proposed on Tuesday.
In his address at the fourth Indian Ocean Conference underway at the Paradise Island Resort near the capital Malé, the Maldives president highlighted the lack of effective institutions to combat trafficking, prevent the collapse of fish stocks and share intelligence information.
“The Indian Ocean Region, especially in its South Asian Core is one of the most poorly integrated regions in the world,” Solih observed. “This is costing us not only in terms of effective collaboration on substantial issues but also materially as well, consigning our people to a slower pace of economic progress.”
Intraregional trade in South Asia “comprises a dismal five percent of our collective GDP” in contrast to 25 percent among ASEAN countries. The collective GNP of Indian Ocean states could be increased by an estimated US$568 by reducing non-tariff trade barriers.
“The Maldives is keenly resolved to increase the scale and depth of all our cooperation across the entire expanse of the Indian Ocean. We believe that this is best accomplished through effective regional organisations dedicated to such ends,” he said.
To that end, Solih said the Maldives is looking forward to joining the Indian Ocean Rim Association next month after membership was approved at a council meeting in South Africa last year. IORA is “fast becoming the main vehicle for providing for the Indian Ocean a coherent governance framework,” he said, pledging to engage proactively on all substantial policy issues.
Forty percent of the world’s oceanic trade, half of container shipping, and two-thirds of global maritime oil trade passes through the Indian Ocean.
The theme of this year’s Indian Ocean Conference is ‘Securing the Indian Ocean Region: Traditional and Non-Traditional Challenges.’ Chaired by visiting Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the two-day conference was organised by the India Foundation in association with the Maldives government and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies of Singapore. Representatives from over 40 countries included the foreign ministers of India, Singapore, Nepal, Bhutan and Mauritius.
– Security, terrorism and marine ecology –
President Solih said it was vital to regularly convene such forums to effectively resolve common concerns.
As the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone is approximately one million square miles, he stressed that effective policing of Maldives territorial waters is necessary to prevent human and narcotics trafficking as well as encroachment by foreign fishing vessels.
“The Maldives will implement measures internally to increase our Maritime Domain Awareness whilst partnering with neighboring militaries for joint patrols and exercises such as the ones we presently conduct with Sri Lanka and India, in the form of the DOSTI Trilateral Exercises, to safeguard our waters from trespass and illegal activity,” he announced.
On the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremism, Solih said it was “essential to upgrade our security measures and facilitate information sharing across regional intelligence agencies in order to meet and fully eradicate this menace.”
The underlying factors that drive radicalisation must also be “candidly” addressed, he added.
The steep decline of Indian Ocean fish stocks was meanwhile particularly alarming for the Maldives as fish is both “a source of dietary sustenance and economic enterprise, with tuna based products comprising the bulk of our exports.”
Underscoring the gravity of the problem, Solih referred to the collapse of Northwest Cod fish stocks in the Atlantic Ocean and suggested that precautionary measures were taken too late.
“If tuna stocks in the Indian Ocean suffer a similar fate it will have a devastating impact on all our communities and Small Island States such as us in particular,” he warned. “The Maldives will do its part to ensure that we abide by sustainable fishing practices and we enjoin all our international friends and regional partners to do the same.”