Remarks at the 18th Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers Meeting

Remarks
Thomas L. Vajda
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) Council of Ministers Meeting
Durban, South Africa
November 2, 2018


As Prepared for Delivery

Madam Minister, Secretary General, distinguished delegates and guests, I am honored to convey to you the greetings of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the United States’ appreciation to the Government of the Republic of South Africa for hosting this meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

The United States is committed to cooperating with regional partners in pursuit of a free, open and prosperous Indian Ocean and broader Indo-Pacific region. Our vision for the Indo-Pacific is grounded in shared values, mutual cooperation, and a commitment to a rules-based order. That includes freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, transparency and accountability in infrastructure development and assistance, private sector led growth, and good governance for the benefit of the people in the region.

The United States is proud to have been an IORA Dialogue Partner since 2012, and our increased engagement in IORA in the past few years—especially on women’s economic empowerment, blue economy and maritime safety and security—is a testament to our commitment to IORA as an institution, and to our common vision for a region that is prosperous, safe, inclusive, and interconnected.

We have been proud to work as partners with many governments represented in IORA to foster women’s entrepreneurship, accelerate women’s workforce participation and reduce barriers to women in the economy – from access to health care to gender-based violence.

U.S. initiatives such as the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) and African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), and last year’s Global Entrepreneur Summit in India focused on “Women First, Prosperity for All” advance economic opportunities for women in the Indian Ocean region and globally.

The United States agrees that women’s economic empowerment is a pre-requisite for sustainable economic development. The IORA Women’s Business Forum was the first of its kind, and a testament to the growth and potential that supporting women in the economy can do for the region as a whole. That is why, at the July Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Washington, the Secretary announced the first-ever U.S. funding to support IORA, which is specifically planned for women’s economic empowerment activities.

Second, U.S. blue economy interests complement IORA’s, which is why we are working with Seychelles and São Tomé and Príncipe to apply satellite technology to detect and respond to IUU fishing. We are working with South Asian nations to strengthen Coast Guard maritime, legal and justice governance capabilities.

In addition, the U.S. initiative “Caught Red Handed” is establishing a Western Indian Ocean regional investigation cell and developing a set of best practices for evidence collection and prosecution of criminal cases in the Indian Ocean fishing industry from Comoros to Sri Lanka.

We look forward to the third IORA Ministerial Blue Economy Conference in Bangladesh next year, and the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference that Kenya will host in Nairobi later this month. We commend Australia’s successful Blue Carbon workshop last year, which should serve as a model for similar efforts going forward.

Third, the United States is deeply invested in IORA’s commitment to strengthening maritime security.

We work with partners across the entire Indian Ocean to develop and enhance maritime domain awareness and increase information sharing, from the Gulf of Aden, to our newly announced Bay of Bengal Initiative, all the way over to the Mekong River delta.

We support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief exercises across the region, which build interoperability and the habits of cooperation necessary to respond together when disaster strikes.

We remain interested in supporting cooperation among the region’s Coast Guards and maritime law enforcement agencies, and invite the region’s recommendations on strengthening cooperation, information sharing, and interoperability to respond to common challenges. Please consider that an open invitation

Finally, to increase connectivity and foster economic growth, we are excited about the BUILD Act, which establishes a modern U.S. development finance institution that will facilitate greater U.S. private sector engagement and empower entrepreneurs, create jobs, and reduce poverty in partner countries.

U.S. Initiatives such as Power Africa and Asia EDGE spur energy investments in IORA countries, underscoring the importance of public-private partnerships, open markets and increasing women’s participation in the economy.

The United States has never been more committed to ensuring a free and open Indian Ocean region and we believe that IORA can play a central role in realizing this vision. We welcome the opportunity to work with all of our partners to create an Indo-Pacific region in which each nation is, to echo President Trump, “strong, prosperous, and self-reliant.”

Thank you very much.