Blue economy is a transboundary issue that should be addressed collectively at regional and sub-regional levels to better manage ocean resources and ensure benefits for all in the region. ASEAN countries and India shall aim to transform traditional ocean economy to a sustainable, innovative and inclusive blue economy.

The use of the oceans has diversified from their classic role as a medium of transport to being a wellspring for economic resources. The economic wealth of the oceans is represented by the staggering variety of living resources (fish and marine vegetation that provide human protein, feed for other species), marine biotechnology (including marine pharmaceuticals, food additives, marine cosmetics, etc, and biofuels), material goods (minerals, placer sand and gravel), goods and services (shipping, inland water transportation, ports, shipbuilding and ship repair, marine information and communication technology, fishing, tourism, other marine manufacturing and trade in services), nonrenewable energy (hydrocarbons, hydrides, gases, etc.) and renewable energy (wind, wave, tidal, thermal, ocean thermal energy conversion and biomass).

The oceans have also been a catalyst for the development of a number of industries, both on land and at sea. The contribution of ocean services has been enormous for the region. The value of key ocean assets is conservatively estimated to reach at least $24 trillion with an annual value of goods and services of $2.5 trillion. Further, the oceans are pegged in seventh position among the world’s top 10 economies.

Healthy seas are important for lives and livelihoods. However, the unbridled economic exploitation of the oceans over the past centuries can no longer continue. Indeed, it has been increasingly recognised that the wealth of resources that the oceans represent is not endless and all further economic exploitation of the oceans needs to conform to a sustainable model of development that recognises the centrality of the oceans as the font of all life on Earth.

Accordingly, in 2015, the global community announced its commitment to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2030, within which Goal 14 relates to sustainable development of the ocean resources: “Life below Water – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

Fulfilment of targets of SDG-14 would lay the foundation of the blue economy but there could be still several unsettled tasks to be fulfilled to accomplish the key objectives of the regional comprehensive blue economy strategy.

In the post-Covid-19 period, regional cooperation will pay an immense catalytic role in framing an integrated blue economy framework to promote ocean research and development and climate resilient measures. Protecting local marine resources is one of the most urgent needs in promoting sustainable tourism. Regional comprehensive mapping of marine projects in ASEAN-India region would facilitate the effective implementation of sustainable coastal and marine tourism.

At the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit on Jan. 25, 2018, leaders of ASEAN countries and India outlined their vision for the future of the ASEAN-India Strategic Partnership, wherein they designated ASEAN-India cooperation in the maritime domain as one of the key areas of this partnership. India endorsed the “blue economy” as a new and central pillar of the country’s economic activity. It encompasses both, the coastal areas and the linked hinterland. The “blue economy” is an important aspect of the ASEAN-India strategic partnership.

The contemporary blue economy discourse highlights maritime safety and security, maritime connectivity and maritime domain awareness, as also the sustainable harnessing of oceanic resources. The objective is to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that will maximize employment opportunities within the ASEAN-India region, with specific concentration on maritime economic activities.

In this regard, high tech “blue small and medium enterprises” can generate a large number of white collar employment in the region. To enhance the ASEAN-India partnership in the transition to a blue economy, ASEAN and India will engage in finding ways and means to strengthen maritime safety at the operational level and help realise the vision of the Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative, India’s Indo-Pacific concept.

It is envisaged that the development of the blue economy at a pan-regional level will be further strengthened with the establishment of the ASEAN-India Blue Economy Framework (AIBEF). The establishment of the AIBEF emanates from the Delhi Declaration of 2018, which was adopted at the Leaders’ Summit held on Jan. 25, 2018 in Delhi. India is a great source of partnership to develop national and regional blue economies.

India has cutting edge technologies for strengthening the capacity to explore the blue resources such as placer and marine minerals, deep-sea and ultra-deep sea hydrocarbons (oil, natural gas and gas hydrates), renewable energy (wind, wave, current, thermal energy), fresh water desalination and marine bioprospecting, among others.

The maritime linkage flows automatically into the realm of sharing a common maritime domain, a common dependence on the oceans and seas, and a common understanding of the importance of sustainable exploitation of the oceans resources.

ASEAN and India are ideal partners in advancing the agenda of the blue economy. In furtherance of this vision of the leaders of ASEAN and India, and in recognition of the emergence of the blue economy as a subject of sharp and sustained focus in the international discourse on maritime affairs, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), in partnership with the ASEAN-India Centre (AIC), Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), plan to organise the fourth ASEAN-India Workshop on the blue economy in May/June 2021 in India.

Previously the MEA conducted three workshops of the ASEAN-India blue economy in 2017 in Vietnam, in 2018 in New Delhi and in 2019 in Bangkok. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the fourth workshop was postponed to 2021.

In the third workshop, participants recommended designing an action plan to implement the Blue Economy Vision. ASEAN countries and India may consider extending technical and financial support to implement the action plan. They also recommended that ASEAN and India continue to work together in combating marine debris, particularly from land-based activities, and strengthen collaborative actions to promote environmentally sound technology and management.

Manoj Kumar Bharti is Indian ambassador to Indonesia