Two of India’s close partners – Kenya and Canada – will join hands to host a major international conference titled Blue Economy and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Nairobi in end-November, 2018. The subject has assumed importance in the course of a name change – ‘Ocean’ became ‘Blue’ – with the emphasis shifting in the last few years to the realisation of the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Governments apart, citizens’ interest in this new economic frontier is growing, if slowly. This is a good sign, and will help to garner interest in a vital stakeholder of the blue economy – business.
The goals of the Blue Economy, a term practically unheard of in India until about 2014, are these: creating additional wealth from the oceans, generating more jobs and adding to economic growth while ensuring that the health of the seas is nurtured. Awareness about these goals is still low because they continue to be viewed in isolation from mainstream economic goals – and are hence only a distant interest for business. But actively nurturing the resources of the oceans is critical especially for a country like India, with its long coastline now in the frontline of security issues, and its many traditional fishing communities whose livelihoods depend on the ocean.
Advocates of sustainability are right about the need to safeguard marine life and natural resources, but an exclusive focus on this dimension scares away business and industry. So does incessant talk about oceanic geopolitics, traditional and non-traditional security threats and disaster management. Therefore, crafting a balance among the three inter-related verticals of the Blue Economy – security, sustainability and economic growth – is necessary.
Geographical regions that are leaders in the Blue Economy today are its beneficiaries for having achieved this balance. The European Union, U.S., China, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and a few others offer success stories and best practices that have considerable relevance for nations in Asia and Africa. This information should be shared in a common archive, so that researchers across the world can study them more closely and disseminate the lessons learnt on the ground.
This is the urgent need now – to move the Blue Economy from debates in global seminar halls into corporate board rooms that can translate it into action on the ground. Savvy chief executives will be receptive to the application of science and technology in this new economic sphere; with technology and incentives, they will be able to fulfill the goals of adhering to sustainable practices which in turn help generate greater wealth in both the traditional and emerging sectors. These business leaders also deserve a hearing on the practical difficulties they will face when making the shift to sustainability.
India is striving to achieve a balance of its own in fulfilling these tripartite interests. A series of government interventions have already taken place. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spelt out the nation’s broad vision by articulating the concept of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) in Mauritius in March 2015. The mega project on the creation and upgradation of ports and port-related infrastructure – Sagarmala– was launched in July 2015. So far, 60 out of the total 492 projects have been implemented. Its further progress must be monitored closely by New Delhi.
India’s business chambers have begun to pay attention to these initiatives, and to the role that industry can play, especially using the instrument of public-private partnerships. A study on this by FICCI was formally presented at the 2nd Ministerial Blue Economy Conference of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) in Jakarta in May 2017. The report, New Delhi said, had broader appeal, being “not just India-specific but significant for all Member-States.”
The Indian government is starting to press its geopolitical interest with the oceanic initiatives through various fora. In addition to the Jakarta meeting, in July this year, the Blue Economy was discussed in detail at the Delhi Dialogue X, the flagship 1.5 track dialogue between India and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Recalling India’s ancient trade routes, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj urged ASEAN members to recreate the web of trade routes and cultural exchanges among the littorals in the past which were inspired by “the maritime rhythm in the Indian Ocean.”
Preceding and successive meetings with ASEAN officials urged keeping the oceans as the “central focal point” and highlighting the integral components of a successful blue economy: maritime connectivity, renewable energy, marine resource conservation and coastal management.
Indian entrepreneurs can lead the way by creating financing solutions to harness and expand Blue Economy-related business activities. A combination of loans, angel financing, venture capitals, private activity, consortium financing and government concessional credit is the way forward. Some of this has begun to take place. In its development, financiers should keep in mind the interests of the region’s many micro, small and medium enterprises, and especially women entrepreneurs.
The upcoming conference in Nairobi offers an opportunity not just to include business, but also to achieve international cooperation. Several of its thematic areas are of considerable interest to Indian companies. Strong business participation from India, together with high-level government representation, will certainly boost India’s ambitions and contribution to this critical new economy.
Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies Programme, Gateway House and a former ambassador. As a diplomat, he served in and dealt with seven countries in the Indian Ocean. He chairs FICCI’s task force on the Blue Economy.
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Of the 17 SDGs, several goals deal with Blue Economy, but Goal 14 deals with it directly. It refers to “Life below water – Conserve and sustainably use the ocean, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
Bhatia, Rajiv, Gateway House, ‘Blue Diplomacy’ to boost Blue Economy, 19 January 2017, <https://www.gatewayhouse.in/blue-diplomacy-to-boost-blue-economy/>
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kenya, Kenya to host Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, <http://www.mfa.go.ke/kenya-host-blue-economy-conference-nairobi/>
 Traditional sectors are: Fisheries and aquaculture, Shipping, Port and marine logistics. Emerging sectors are: Marine biotechnology, Renewable ocean energy, Mining, ICT, education and research, Marine construction, Marine tourism and leisure experience cruise and heritage tourism.
Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Prime Minister’s Remarks at the Commissioning of Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) Barracuda in Mauritius (March 12, 2015), 12 March 2015, <https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/24912/Prime_Ministers_Remarks_at_the_Commissioning_of_Offshore_Patrol_Vessel_OPV_Barracuda_in_Mauritius_March_12_2015>
Sagarmala, Government of India, Home, <http://sagarmala.gov.in/>
Sagarmala, Government of India, Projects under Sagarmala, <http://sagarmala.gov.in/projects/projects-under-sagarmala>
 The reference is to the Knowledge Paper entitled “Blue Economy – Vision 2025: Harnessing Business Potential for India Inc and International Partners” produced by a special FICCI taskforce which was chaired by this author.<http://ficci.in/desk-study-page.asp?spid=20896&deskid=54535>
Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Second IORA Ministerial Blue Economy Conference: ‘Financing Blue Economy’ – Satement by Shri M.J. Akbar, 10 May 2017, <https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/28450/SECOND_IORA_MINISTERIAL_BLUE_ECONOMY_CONFERENCE_FINANCING_BLUE_ECONOMY_STATEMENT_BY_SHRI_MJ_AKBAR>
Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, Remarks by External Affairs Minister at Delhi Dialogue X (July 19, 2018), 19 July 2018, <https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/30138/Remarks_by_External_Affairs_Minister_at_Delhi_Dialogue_X_July_19_2018>
Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, 2nd ASEAN-India Blue Economy Workshop Keynote Address by Secretary (East), 18 July 2018, <https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/30097/2nd_ASEANIndia_Blue_Economy_Workshop_Keynote_Address_by_Secretary_East>
 India played a significant role in contributing to the deliberations of the Jakarta Conference of IORA on Blue Economy. A key section of the Jakarta Declaration is worth noting here: “IORA Member States, in collaboration with Dialogue Partners, should encourage the financing of ocean economy infrastructure and development projects, including development and investment in Economic Development Zones, as well as investment and exploration of new technologies for Blue Economy Development.” <http://www.iora.int/media/8218/jakarta-declaration-on-blue-economy-final.pdf>
 Kripalani, Manjeet, Gateway House, Innovation’s role in the Blue Economy, 6 September 2017, <https://www.gatewayhouse.in/blue-economy-in-taiwan/>
The thematic areas are: Transportation and Global Connectivity; Employment, Job Creation and Poverty Eradication; Cities, Tourism Entertainment and Blue Economy; Energy, Mineral Resources and Sustainable Development; Ending Hunger, Securing food supplies, and Promoting good health and dietary practices; management and sustaining of marine life, conservation and sustainable economic activity; climate action, agriculture and pollution free oceans; maritime security and enforcement; people communities and societies: the inclusive blue economy. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kenya, Kenya to host Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, <http://www.mfa.go.ke/kenya-host-blue-economy-conference-nairobi/>