Business leaders and academics from nearly 30 countries agreed on a series of steps to further the idea of a trade and economic grouping of Indian Ocean nations.
The two-day meeting in Delhi was organized by three Indian business associations under the aegis of the Indian Ocean Consultative Business Network.The network held its first meeting in Perth, Australia, last June. The private effort parallels government initiatives to give form to the proposed group.
Seven countries bordering the Indian Ocean kicked off the formal efforts to forge a trade and economic association. In addition to India and Australia, they are Kenya, Mauritius, Oman, South Africa and Singapore.
Indian Ocean states have combined trade of $250 billion a year and an aggregate population of 1.4 billion.
The idea of capitalizing on this through some cooperative venture was first suggested by South Africa and has been pushed by Australia.
Indian Commerce Minister P. Chidambaram cautioned delegates and academics at the Delhi meeting not to pitch their expectations too high because of the wide differences among Indian Ocean nations.
Harold Clough, president of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, urged business leaders to come together not only to generate business but also to make the region an attractive area for outside trade and investment.
Business leaders broke into groups to focus on four areas - nontariff
barriers, maritime, customs procedures, and telecommunications.
A discussion paper prepared by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said Australia, India and South Africa have the diversity and depth required for success in a regional trade group.
Kenya, rich in mineral and other natural resources, could be a window to markets in East and Central Africa, it suggested.
The paper put forward the idea that Indian Ocean countries cooperate in marketing, purchasing and trading.
For example, India and Australia are two of the world's top 10 exporters of natural textile fibers. Australia, India and South Africa are three of the top 10 exporters of iron ore.
"They can evolve a joint market strategy for exporting of common products and can import large quantities through their state trading organizations," the paper said.
Business associations will conduct further studies. These will be presented at the next meeting in South Africa at the end of 1996.
An earlier government-level meeting in Mauritius decided the group should be broadly modeled on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and that membership should not be exclusive. APEC comprises 18 countries on both sides of the Pacific and is working toward an internal free-trade area.