NEW DELHI (AP) — Ministers from 19 countries around the Indian Ocean discussed ways to work together Friday to boost maritime security and ensure that some of the world's busiest sea lanes are kept safe for global trade.
The ministers met in New Delhi to chalk out a 10-year roadmap for the group to promote trade and investment in the fast-growing economic region.
India's external affairs minister, Salman Khurshid, said the Indian Ocean's geo-strategic importance "cannot be underestimated."
While the Indian Ocean rim countries have helped promote understanding and cooperation among themselves, Khurshid said "immense untapped potential remained for greater trade and economic relations."
The group has identified maritime security as among its top most priorities. Over the past few years, pirates based mostly in the African nation of Somalia, have taken over container ships, seizing cargos and holding crews for ransom.
Although incidents of piracy have declined in the last year, it continues to threaten sea trade of not just the Indian Ocean states, but even that of the United States and Europe that depend on oil imports from the Gulf.
About 70 percent of global traffic in petroleum products and half the world's container traffic transits through the Indian Ocean.
"Despite the global economic slowdown and the slow recovery, Indian Ocean rim economies performed well in 2011, with their combined GDP at an estimated $6.5 trillion," said Sudhir Vyas, an Indian diplomat. That was up from $5.7 trillion a year earlier, he said.
Set up in 1997, the Indian Ocean rim group includes Australia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Singapore and South Africa. China, France, Egypt, Japan and Britain attend the meetings as observers. On Friday, the United States was inducted as a sixth observer in the group.