KOCHI: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning! On behalf of the U.S. Consulate General Chennai, I welcome you all to South India for the second component of the Maritime Security Conference.
In Chennai, we discussed how a range of maritime issues affect Tamil Nadu and the surrounding region. Today, we’ll have a Kerala perspective. Like Chennai, Kochi is a fitting place to discuss all things maritime.
Kochi is called the ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’. No visitor to Kochi can miss the Chinese fishing nets that adorn its beautiful shores.
Some local legends posit that they were introduced in Kochi by the Chinese explorer Zheng He from the court of Kublai Khan, although current research indicates they may have come by way of Portuguese settlers from Macau.
Either way, they are reminders of the centuries-old trade and people-to-people links this part of India has with East Asia. In fact, as early as 5,000 years ago, Kerala established itself as a major center of the spice trade.
It had direct contacts across the Arabian Sea with all of the major Red Sea and Mediterranean ports, as well as ports in the Far East. The spice trade between Kerala and much of the world was one of the main drivers of the then global economy.
And today, the stretch of sea from the Indian Ocean through to the Pacific is one of the world’s most vibrant trade and energy routes, linking world economies and driving development and prosperity.
This age-old goal of expanding trade now is joined by our 21st century challenges of ensuring security and safe transit of our waterways, establishing international maritime rules of engagement, and protecting and conserving our maritime resources – all focus areas of discussion over the next few days.
In the area of promoting trade, India’s ‘Look East’ policy established in 1991, placed a focus on developing significant partnerships in the region.
Today India is building closer and deeper economic ties with its eastern neighbors, expanding regional markets and increasing both investments and business ties. Published statistics cite India’s trade with Southeast Asia as reaching 76 billion dollars in 2012-2013.
And enhanced economic engagements in Southeast Asia have resulted in the revitalizing and expansion of road, air, and sea links between India, Bangladesh, Burma, and the rapidly growing economies of ASEAN.
Nonetheless, by some measures, South Asia remains the least economically connected region in the world today. So there is a lot of potential for expanded opportunities.
Improved linkages and infrastructure investments between the economies of South Asia and Southeast Asia will be a critical component to integrating regional markets; accelerating economic development; and strengthening regional stability.
This growth in connectivity in the Asian-Pacific region is a priority for the United States, and with good reason: the U.S. realized over $500 billion dollars in U.S. exports to the region last year which supported 2.8 million jobs in America. So the security and prosperity of the United States is also inextricably linked to the peaceful development of Asia and the Asian waterways.
Maritime connectivity is also essential to India’s security and prosperity. It’s important to note that by volume, 90% of the goods India trades are carried by sea. And, just as the U.S. exports to the Asia create U.S. jobs, Indian exports to the U.S. and the region generate economic activity and jobs here. We both gain from greater commercial interactions with and between the countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Toward this end, within APEC, and as part of our ongoing rebalance toward Asia, the United States has been working to strengthen regional economic integration; to promote energy cooperation, private sector investments, and educational exchange; to reduce barriers to trade and investment; to improve connectivity; and to support sustainable growth.
The United States is also working with regional economies on a Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which will ultimately lead to APEC’s goal of building a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. These realization of these shared objectives of economic integration, free trade and prosperity, require that the sea lanes throughout the Indo-Pacific remain open and secure. For that we need effective maritime security in the region.
The key to effective security is effective partnerships. Our countries’ navies have a huge role to play in ensuring the security of the Asia-Pacific sea lanes. The United States is actively involved in a variety of partnerships specifically dealing with maritime security in the Indo-Pacific. For example, the U.S. most recently joined the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia, or ReCAAP.
In 2009, the United States helped establish the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. As we all know, this piracy threatened trade flows to and from Asia. Working together to establish multi-national naval patrols and to prosecute and incarcerate pirates has effectively checked this menace to trade and security.
As a founding member of this group, India has shown great leadership in confronting and combating piracy stemming from Somalian waters. Today, the Contact Group includes more than 80 nations, non-governmental and international organizations, industry, and civil society groups, working together to fight piracy.
Thanks to the collective efforts of the international community, Somali pirate attacks declined 75 percent from 2011 to 2012, and there has not been a major incident of pirate attack in the Indian Ocean in nearly two years.
However, our collective gains against piracy are not irreversible, and the international community needs to maintain concerted efforts and cooperation to continue to suppress piracy.
Maritime security cooperation is a key component of U.S.– India defense and strategic cooperation. Our defense relationship today encompasses military-to-military dialogues, exercises, defense sales, professional military education exchanges, and practical cooperation.
My first trip to Kochi in October 2011 underscored to me the robust military cooperation between the U.S. and India as my trip was in conjunction with the visit of the U.S. Navy frigate USS Ford and professional exchanges between our naval professionals.
In just my three years as Consul General, the U.S. Consulate has had the opportunity to support four ship visits to South India to include two of the impressive bilateral Malabar exercises in the Bay of Bengal. These annual MALABAR exercises are part of a continuing series of exchanges between the U.S. and Indian navies to advance maritime relationships and mutual security cooperation to include in areas of humanitarian operations and search and rescue.
Finally, we cannot forget our commitment to protect our shared environment, and our shared seas. Our maritime resources are just too important to ignore. Accordingly, next week, Secretary of State John Kerry will host the “Our Ocean” Conference in Washington DC, which will bring together individuals, experts, practitioners, advocates, lawmakers, and the international ocean and foreign policy communities to share perspectives, lessons learned, and scientific insights, on effective actions and cooperation on issues such as sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification.
Similarly, at this conference, a panel will discuss natural resources and environmental challenges in areas of energy fisheries and minerals and climate change.
Before I close, I would like to recognize the presence of Mr. Paul Antony, Chairman of the Cochin Port Trust; Vice Admiral Raman P. Suthan, former Commander in Chief of India’s Eastern Naval Command; and Deputy Inspector General Chandran, Commander of the Indian Coast Guard, Kerala and Mahe. We thank you all for your support.
So, we have a lot of talk about and I wish you productive sessions throughout the day.