Opening Remarks and Country Statement by Minister GNM Pandor at the 19th Meeting of the IORA Council of Ministers (COM), Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Thursday, 7 November 2019
Distinguished Senior Officials and Delegates,
On behalf of IORA, I wish to welcome you all to the beautiful city of Abu Dhabi for the 19th IORA Council of Ministers Meeting. As you are aware, today marks the end of my country’s Chairship of IORA and, in this regard, I will be handing over the reins of our Association to my dear Colleague and friend, Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates.
Please allow me to express my sincere gratitude to the Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the warm hospitality that my delegation and I have received since our arrival in your beautiful country. The UAE Government’s on-going commitment to enhancing the values of this prominent Association is appreciated and commendable. IORA is a diverse grouping, but we are united by the commitment of each Member State to the common goal of advancing our collective objectives to the optimal benefit of the peoples of the IORA region.
To the Secretary-General of IORA, H.E. Ambassador Dr Nomvuyo Nokwe, we wish to express our gratitude to you and the staff of the Secretariat for the excellent work that you and the Secretariat are engaged in. We look forward to continue working with you to strengthen our Association to achieve the objective of building a pre-eminent regional organisation that will serve the peoples inhabiting the shores of our Indian Ocean.
The legacy of former President Mandela, as a founding father of our Organisation, needs to reverberate within IORA. He left an indelible mark on South Africa and the World and we are hopeful that it will also continue to be reflected in our Association, especially with the “Nelson Mandela, Be the Legacy Internship programme” due to be launched in 2020, thereby preserving his legacy of a vision of an Indian Ocean Rim for socio-economic cooperation and other peaceful endeavours.
Investment in science and innovation is an integral part of South Africa’s national growth and development objectives. Priority research investment areas include those in which South Africa enjoys a comparative geographic advantage, such as our rich biodiversity and diverse climatic conditions arising from access to the Atlantic, Indian and Southern Oceans. This national effort, which includes the funding of Research Chairs and Centres of Excellence at our Universities, support for public funded research and technology organisations and national facilities, and the deployment of research infrastructure, is designed to equip South Africa to address the imperatives of global change.
South Africa’s National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), for example, facilitates access to biodiversity data and the production of knowledge, to ensure scientific information informs policymaking with regard to biodiversity. Similarly, the South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON) performs long-term ecological research to better our understanding of the impact of environmental change. The South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity performs similar work, whilst the South African National Space Agency and others invest and deploy platforms such as nano-satellites for oceans and coastal zone monitoring to support information systems for the protection and sustainable management of resources. Through our Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy initiative we are pursuing a number of programmes relating to such as aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, ship building and ship repair, marine protection and ocean governance, harbour revitalisation and small harbour development. It should be noted that we also linked our Chairing to the 2nd International Indian Ocean Expedition that began in 2017.
Science knows no borders and international cooperation, through the sharing of experience and expertise as well as pooling of resources, is crucial to optimally harness science for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. South Africa is, thus, committed to partnerships such as IORA, and our Department of Science and Innovation and National Research Foundation have concertedly invested in science and academic programmes.
Key areas for cooperation are articulated in the Work Plan of the Working Group on the Blue Economy and there are some critical areas that we can collaborate on (leveraging on our Operation Phakisa experience), such as in Marine Spatial Planning, Marine Protected Areas, scientific research and joint research cruises, satellite technology for data and knowledge generation, fisheries management, port and small harbour development, coastal and marine tourism and capacity building and training initiatives. One initiative provides a prime example of where we can share experience, i.e. the Oceans and Coastal Information System developed by our Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
Furthermore, we are determined to also enhance intra-African cooperation and integration in science and, therefore, have undertaken various outreach efforts to enable broader African participation in the science and academic programmes of IORA, amongst others. We have championed linkages between IORA and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and particularly the 2050 African Integrated Maritime Strategy.
The geostrategic importance and profile of the Indian Ocean Region continues to grow apace, with an unprecedented focus and attention on the potential contribution that the Region could make towards global security, economic growth, and sustainable development. Therefore, we have been working not only towards the strengthening and expansion of IORA, but we are also observing the emergence of renewed contestation within the region.
This reality should inspire us to initiate robust discussion amongst ourselves to reflect progressive thinking on the position and role of IORA as a pre-eminent body in the Indian Ocean and within the context of the emerging Indo-Pacific Concept. I would urge our Senior Officials and all the Functional Bodies of the Association to continue discussions in this regard.
We believe that IORA will remain a beacon of hope for multilateralism and regional cooperation at a time when the coherence and stability of the global multilateral system is being tested severely. IORA provides us with a unique opportunity to enhance the spirit of multilateralism within one of the most diverse regions of the world, comprising a heterogeneous mix of developed countries, developing countries, Small Island States, and Least Developed Countries. As a collective, we should take this opportunity to expand on our understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation through IORA’s consensus-based, evolutionary and non-intrusive approach. As a grouping, we must use this approach to promote cohesiveness and unity within the Region, while resisting the emerging and very real threat of geopolitical rivalry taking root in the Indian Ocean Region. As Member States of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, it behoves us to strive to utilise the resources of the Ocean for development in a sustainable way for the mutual benefit of all our peoples.
This approach was amplified in our vision for the region and encapsulated in our theme for our Chairship of “IORA: uniting the Peoples of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East through Enhanced Cooperation for Peace, Stability and Sustainable Development”, which encompassed the view that the Indian Ocean Region should be characterised as a region of peace, stability and development, and we should continue to nurture this goal.
As the outgoing IORA Chair, we have for the first time in the history of the Association compiled an extensive Handing-Over Report for the incoming Chair to foster continuity, which I will present to my esteemed Colleague. We stand ready to work with the Chair as a member of the Troika to continue fostering this sense of continuity.
We have been working tirelessly to strengthen the institution, including the Secretariat, and we are delighted to have hosted two technical Workshops in Mauritius in March 2018 and April 2019 respectively. The aim was to improve the capacity and efficiency of the Secretariat in complying with its mandate in support of the IORA Member States. We also implemented, at the second Workshop in Mauritius in April 2019, a special Strategic Dialogue session to engage on topical issues, of which the Indo-Pacific Concept was the first of such discussions. We would like to see such topical engagements regularised on the calendar of IORA annual events to ensure that we can engage appropriately on contemporary issues of mutual concern and interest.
South Africa actively participated in the collective effort of crafting the IORA Action Plan (2017-2021), which was adopted at the first-ever IORA Leader’s Summit under the Chairship of Indonesia in March 2017. The key issue for South Africa in the management of the IORA Action Plan (2017-2021) has been the issue of “taking ownership” by the Member States of the process of implementation. This has resulted in the establishment of Coordinating Countries taking the lead on the identified Priority Areas, supported by Cluster Groups that were formed on a voluntary basis. The updated draft IORA Action Plan (2017-2021), which is part of the COM documentation, has an updated list of the Coordinating Countries and Cluster Groups. As Chair, we regularly appealed to Member States to join the Cluster Groups and I am encouraged to report that we have perceived a continued growth and involvement by the individual Member States in the process.
To cater for the continued growth of the Association, we managed to amend the IORA Charter, which will not only streamline procedures, but will also ensure the necessary flexibility and longevity of the Association.
To achieve the set objectives, new dedicated Functional Bodies have been established to specifically manage the IORA Priority Areas. All these new Functional Bodies are based on Terms of Reference (ToR), with clearly defined Work Plans, which in most cases were endorsed by the specific line-function Ministries through a Ministerial Meeting.
The new Working Groups are Maritime Safety and Security, Blue Economy, Women’s Economic Empowerment and Tourism. Work is at an advanced stage to operationalise the Core Group on Disaster Risk Management.
Further work has been done to revitalise existing Functional Bodies to enhance Trade and Investment Facilitation and Business Promotion, with a focus on the promotion of Small and Medium Enterprises. Strengthening and increasing the role of academia in IORA also received attention. The incoming Chair will be taking over the ongoing revitalisation of especially the Working Group on Trade and Investment (WGTI) and the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum (IORBF). Furthermore, in December 2019, India will host the Academic Group (IORAG) to address the Priority Area for Academic, Science and Technology Cooperation, and finalise the process of the institutionalisation of the Indian Ocean Dialogue (IOD), including by holding the 6th IOD.
We have also observed an increasing interest amongst countries outside of the region to join IORA as Dialogue Partners, such as the most recent application by Italy as the 10th IORA Dialogue Partner Country. This is a clear testament to the growing importance and relevance of this organisation globally.
We have also developed mechanisms and criteria to deepen and broaden our engagement with, and support from our Dialogue Partners. The days of “sleeping partners” have been addressed and we are only willing to engage with those countries that will give a clear indication of the actual value they intend adding to IORA.
In conclusion, during the South African Chairship, it was clear to us that IORA is an organisation on the ascendency as a regional entity. The sentiments expressed by President Mandela 23 years ago remain true today and continue to bind us in ensuring that the Indian Ocean Rim region remains an important global player that promotes peace, socio-economic development and solidarity, especially under the current global environment that is characterised by surging doubts on the centrality of multilateralism.
Once more, it is my sincere pleasure to welcome you all to the 19th COM in Abu Dhabi and to thank our gracious host for the excellent arrangements and kind hospitality.
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