Speaking in a session on "Enhancing Trade and Investment in the IOR-ARC Region" during the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) Economic and Business Conference in Port Louis on Thursday, Sharma highlighted the fact that this region as a whole has managed to maintain a trade surplus in most years of the last decade even when the economies elsewhere were getting affected by the subdued global demands and contracting growth in the West.
"We have identified the key areas and our business leaders are keen to take it forward," said Sharma. But, at the same time, he voiced his concern that "despite the establishment of Working Group on Trade and Investment, not much progress has been made for achieving substantial outcomes based on the promise that this region holds out and the potential that has largely remained unharnessed".
As a result, Sharma said that the need for this Conference is to initiate the process of deliberations and gather suggestions of the business leaders for chartering the future roadmap of engagement, focused on enhancing trade and investment as an engine of economic growth and prosperity with businesses driving the growth agenda as partners in progress.
Replying to a question from the audience, Sharma said that visa regimes in the countries of the region need to be further liberalised. India is considering visa on arrival for many countries including Mauritius.
With many countries of the Ocean Region being part of several sub-regional groupings like ASEAN, SAARC, COMESA, GCC, SACU which assist in exploring institutionalised mechanisms for building regional cooperation for trade and investment, Sharma said: "This experience as part of the sub-groupings should be gainfully utilised for consolidating our partnerships in this expanding Rim Region Association."
He further said: "It is important to take forward the momentum of our pan-Indian ocean regional cooperation to the next logical level by creating an institutionalised mechanism for an interaction of our businesses by defining areas of cooperation."
Speaking during the inaugural session of the Conference themed "Deepening Economic Linkages For Balanced, Inclusive And Sustainable Growth", which was attended by Prime Minister of Mauritius, Navinchandra Ramgoolam, Sharma said: "There is an immense scope among IOR countries for diversifying the trade basket to value added products for achieving more balanced outcomes in trade both global and intra regional."
Speaking on the utilisation of a special fund established by IOR-ARC five years ago for financing priority projects and programmes adopted by the Association, Sharma said that "it is time to simplify procedures for utilisation of the Special Fund for effective implementation of projects in priority areas of this association".
Ramgoolam noted the leadership that India provided to IOR-ARC.
"We acknowledge the tremendous efforts that India has made in last two years and also the significant contribution made to the fight against piracy. Under Mr. Sharma's stewardship, IOR-ARC displayed a remarkable degree of dynamism," said Ramgoolam.
As the IOR region is home to world's richest agricultural resources and with many countries emerging as major exporters of processed food making agro-industry, Sharma said: "India welcomes equity and technology participation in the Agro and Food Processing Zones that are coming up in India, especially in setting up cold storage and logistic supply chains for reducing post harvest losses under the liberalised Foreign Direct Investment architecture in Multi-Brand Retailing."
Sharma also welcomed the participation by businesses in the region in India's infrastructure development.
Showcasing the importance of maritime cooperation, Sharma stressed: "India can play a crucial role for enhanced regional trade through high seas which calls for concerted action on a common maritime enforcement regime that provides security and combats piracy without militarisation of the peaceful region."
Sharma also said that with the association evolving in the direction of building stronger economic linkages with willingness to cooperate in identified areas of priority as suggested by the Working Group on Trade and Investment, "it is opportune to institutionalise and consolidate our collective strengths to chart a new course in the global growth story and strengthen our prosperity as a region."
--IBNS (Posted on 04-07-2013)