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Australia to Chair IOR-ARC in 2013

At the 2010 Council of Ministers (COM) in Sana’a, Yemen, Australia was appointed as Vice Chair of IOR-ARC for a two year period starting in November 2011. Australia will then assume the chair from India for a two year period from 2013 to 2015.

The Australian Government has been proactive in developing export markets and beneficial regional agreements to give Australian companies the best platform to develop trade. We were the founding country for APEC, we are now joined with ASEAN through a multilateral FTA and now our Government will have the opportunity to re-vitalise the IOR-ARC for the benefit of all 18 countries in this association.

Working with the current chair – India, the focus on this grouping will now intensify and create a new geographic region for Australian exporters to explore.

The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR – ARC) was established in 1997 to encourage cooperation between States within the Indian Ocean region. The charter declares that the IOR-ARC seeks to build and expand understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation through a consensus based, evolutionary and non - intrusive approach.

Within this agreement there are no laws or binding contracts. Compliance with the consensus based decisions remains without any rigid institutional structure to specify any rules and regulations. It comprises 18 countries – Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Membership is open to all sovereign States of the Indian Ocean Rim willing to subscribe to the principles and objectives of the charter. The IOR – ARC is firmly based on the principle of open regionalism which is strongly encouraged by the WTO.

Australia has a heavy involvement with the IOR-ARC; in fact Australia was the founding member in 1997. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia has taken responsibility for all IOR-ARC policy, in consultation with other relevant agencies.

IOR-ARC hosts an annual meeting with the COM which is usually attended by Foreign Ministers of participating States. The Academic Group (IORAG), Business Forum (IORBF) and the Working Group on Trade and Investment (WGTI) are the three working level bodies that also attend these meetings. The Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) considers all proposals from these bodies and makes recommendations to the COM for final approval.

The overarching system allows cooperation to be based on principles of sovereignty, equality, territorial integrity, political independence and non-interference in internal affairs. Furthermore the peaceful co-existence and mutual benefit to all participants is of high importance. Co-operation within the association does not prejudice the rights and obligations of the Member States within the framework of other economic and trade co-operation arrangements and will not apply automatically to Member states of the association.

It does not in any way seek to be a substitute for, but to reinforce and to be complementary and consistent with the bilateral and multilateral rights and obligations of member States. Within the framework of the Association, Member States will pursue measures to promote the achievements of its objectives, and will not take any action likely to prejudice its objectives and activities.

The Indian Ocean region is of vital strategic importance for Australia. Almost a third of the world’s population resides within the 18 member States of the IOR-ARC. This also represents 10 per cent of global GDP and is rising rapidly. Australia considers itself as much an Indian Ocean Nation as a Pacific Ocean Nation. Australia’s trade in goods to States within the IOR-ARC in 2010-2011 was over $80 billion, which accounts for more than 17 per cent of our total exports. This is of vital importance to Australia and something we hold in very high regard moving in to the future.
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