India and the Blue Economy: Synergies in the neighbourhood

Published on Oct 25, 2022 11:08 AM IST

The article has been authored by Irene Vettiyadan, research intern, Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi.

It is useful to mention that Blue Economy has been identified as a special focus area of the IORA.(Bloomberg)
It is useful to mention that Blue Economy has been identified as a special focus area of the IORA.(Bloomberg)
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Seychelles recently hosted the BlueInvest Africa conference (September 7-9, 2022), where European and African companies met to exchange ideas, business strategies and investments related to Blue Economy. BlueInvest Africa is one of the few international settings which gathers innovators and entrepreneurs to collaborate on the Blue Economy. In addition to participants from Europe and Africa, start-ups and companies from Asia and America were in the Seychelles for the event. Importantly, the Blue Economy is acquiring more prominence on the international agenda as countries recognise that Ocean partnerships are crucial for bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

The Blue Economy’s popularity goes along with countries' significant commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. Indeed, the Blue Economy’s pillar is sustainability: it entails an economic model that assures growth while protecting all stakeholders and the involved resources. Unesco confers the Blue Economy the duty to “promote economic growth, social inclusion and the preservation or improvement of livelihoods while ensuring environmental sustainability of the oceans and coastal areas”.

The very sustainable aspect of the Blue Economy requires countries to cooperate in elaborating inclusive policies, respectful of every parties Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in the ocean and their economic activities. Several negotiations and partnerships on the Blue Economy are with regard to the Indian Ocean’s region, which covers an area of 70 million square kilometres, surrounded by 38 countries and hosting one third of the world’s population.

The area retains multiple resources, on which the region’s economies are dependent. Due to its geographic position, the Indian peninsula and South Asia have a pivotal influence in the Indian Ocean. In the case of India, it is the seventh largest fishing country in the world and the Indian coast facilitates large-scale sea trade and foreign trade. At the same time, India’s coasts host major ports and national stations for energy, nuclear power and defence, which are vital for the country.

Nonetheless, economic activities in the Indian Ocean vary per country. For instance, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Mauritius and the Maldives are high touristic spots, India and Australia are excelling in the offshore oil and gas extraction and trade, while South Africa and Mozambique have increased explorations of their natural gas and oil reserves, opening up for more partnerships.

Collaboration between the Indian Ocean countries is fostered by specifically designed platforms. The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is the principal regional body to bring 21 members, seven dialogue partners and two observers for roundtables on Ocean activities. The organisation has six priority areas: Maritime safety and security, trade and investment facilitation, fisheries management, disaster risk reduction, academic and scientific cooperation, tourism and cultural exchanges. IORA’s summits successfully enhanced the agenda on the Blue Economy, sustainable employment and economic growth. Moreover, two programmes are largely contributing to advance ocean cooperation and the Blue Economy in the Indian Ocean: The Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

The Bay of Bengal is an area of greater scope for the Blue Economy with 30% of the world’s fishermen being located there. Bangladesh is emerging as a prominent the Blue Economy with the mission it launched called the “Bay of Bengal Partnership for Blue Economy” and their investment in research, oceanography, sustainable training for workers and residents. India signed a bilateral MoU with Bangladesh to advance ocean economic cooperation and join Bangladesh's multiple sustainable ocean activities. Alongside, India has partnered with Myanmar for maritime security cooperation, which consists of the regulation of ocean space, sovereign rights for commercial activities, establishment of EEZs.

India’s engagement in the Blue Economy is rising, as the country issues policy proposals, and actively participates in international and regional dialogues on the Blue Economy, maritime and marine cooperation. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) published the Blue Economy Vision 2025, which states that the Blue Economy’s impacts are not limited to the ocean but these are crucial for countries’ food security, poverty, resilience against dangerous consequences of climate change, maritime cooperation, job opportunities and countries’ socio-economic growth.

While multiple definitions apply to the Blue Economy, most of the upcoming policies in India refer to the one adopted by the Indian Blue Economy Task Force: “Blue Economy encompasses a wide range of economic activities pertaining to sustainable development of resources and assets in the oceans, related rivers, water bodies and coastal regions – in a manner that ensures equity, inclusion, innovation and modern technology.”

India’s existing Blue Economy partnerships are predominantly determined by economic reasons and the sustainable commitment is hardly visible. India's Blue Economy agenda includes provisions like job creation, innovation and maritime business but it struggles to entirely incorporate the sustainable development of resources, the protection of environment and prevention of ecological scarcities in the ocean.

Furthermore, the Indian Ocean countries are adopting different strategies for the Blue Economy and to which India can contribute. Among the IORA members, Mauritius and Seychelles were one of the first countries to adopt a specific Blue Economy policy. Both of them are Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and because of their geography they are almost fully dependent on sea resources. Since they are closer to the African continent, their strategies mainly align with their African neighbours, however they are working on new partnerships with Australia and India. In the case of Mauritius, their blue economic policy fosters fishing terminal processing as well as the creation of hubs for petroleum bunkering and storage. Such projects require greater investments, which India could provide through credits and grants. The same input could apply to Seychelles, where the priorities are to develop infrastructure in remote islands and improve tourism. Precisely for SIDS, infrastructures are essential to guarantee connectivity and mobility necessary for economic activities and for an inclusive and sustainable economy.

Furthermore, Indian business can kick off in the Blue Economy framework through a partnership with Southeast Asian countries, like Malaysia and Thailand. Malaysian ports are among the world busiest ones and platforms for large exports and blue trade. The existing business cooperation between India and Malaysia facilitates a deeper commercial engagement for Indian businesses in blue economic activities with Malaysia. Both countries are part of a trilateral highway project with Thailand, which will connect northeast India with major deep sea ports around Thailand. Sustainable business practices are flourishing in Thailand and the government has prioritised sustainable goals on its agenda, which prioritises sustainable business, clean energy and green technology. India’s collaboration with Thailand has not only a business potential, but a highly sustainable potential to develop green infrastructure and technologies.

Players in the Indian Ocean are also the east coast African countries, distant neighbours to India. An emerging partnership is the one between India and Kenya. Prime Minister Modi and President Uhuru Kenyatta have agreed on programmes to sustainably manage and extract ocean-based resources. Interestingly, one of Kenya’s top priorities is to create an agro-based Blue Economy to increase productivity. The integration of agriculture into the Blue Economy offers the opportunity to India for a unique strategy, which could revolutionise India’s economy through an effective combination of its prevalent agricultural sector and the Blue Economy. Additionally, the government of Mozambique placed the Blue Economy as one of its agenda’s priorities. Mozambique’s reserves of coal and natural gas attract numerous international investors, who are willing to assist the development of ports, infrastructures and facilities. India is already contributing to natural resources’ extraction, infrastructures projects, food processing, power generation and more initiatives in Mozambique.

India has greater potential to foster cooperation in the Indian Ocean to design blue economic strategies. Since sustainability and climate are on top of the international agendas and in vision of the upcoming G20’s presidency, India looks forward to ideate concrete Blue Economy policies. The Indian ministry of earth sciences plans to publish a National Policy on the Blue Economy which is still in its draft form. The proposal identifies the great contribution the Blue Economy can make to India’s Gross Domestic Product. With the ocean economic activities and governance, the preservation of marine biodiversity and resources is stressed.

Climate change’s impacts are a reality in the Indian Ocean and littoral States; the survival of the environment and communities is already compromised. Moving forward, faster and efficient cooperation and multilateral engagements are pivotal to a resilient Blue Economy framework in the region.

The article has been authored by Irene Vettiyadan, research intern, Centre for Public Policy Research, Kochi.

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