The Sultanate of Oman has joined a number of Arab, regional and international groupings to contribute to the dissemination of the umbrella of international peace and security efforts and to connect the Sultanate with the peoples of the region on the basis of historical factors and economic advantages. The most prominent of these groupings are:
- Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD)
- Gulf – EU Dialogue
- Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC)
The Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD)
First: The Background
The notion of the establishment of the Asian Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) was raised by Thailand during the First International Conference of Asian Political Parties, which was held in Manila from 17 to 20 September 2000. However, the idea was formally crystallized during the 34th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting in Hanoi on 23 June 2001; it is considered the first international Asian entity that aimed at integrating all Asian countries.
The first ministerial meeting of the ACD was held in Thailand from 18 to 19 June 2002, with the participation of eighteen countries: Bahrain, Qatar, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. The ACD currently includes 31 countries; they are as follows: The 18 states listed above, in addition to Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Sultanate of Oman, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Iran, Mongolia, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.
The Declaration of the Sultanate of Oman to join the ACD was at the closing session of the second meeting of the foreign ministers held in Chang Mai, Thailand from 21 to 22 June 2003.
Second: The Objectives of the ACD
- To promote common interaction among Asian countries in all areas of cooperation by identifying joint opportunities that will help to fight poverty and improve the standard of living of Asian people.
- To expand trade and financial markets in Asia, and to increase competitive strength with the countries around the world.
- To work as a communicative tool in Asia by building and developing processes which depend on Asian capabilities through completing and strengthening the existing cooperation frameworks in order to be a vital partner for other regions.
- To transform the Asian continent into an Asian community capable of interacting with the rest of the world for more positive contributions toward peace and well-being.
Third: ACD Meetings and Activities
ACD Member States participate in formal and sporadic meetings held during international forums and conferences. The ACD comprises a temporary General Secretariat located in the State of Kuwait through which coordination among Member States is established. In addition, a proposal was put forward by Kuwait which aimed at transforming the ACD into a general and a permanent Secretariat. During the first meeting of the ACD, held in the Cha-am district of Thailand on 18 and 19 June 2002, it was agreed to develop two main areas:
- To increase the mutual interaction between the ministers of the ACD countries and government officials;
- To participate in projects established on a voluntary basis at the discretion of each state to serve the interests of Asian countries.
Gulf & Europe Forum
Following the establishment of The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) in 1981, the GCC and the European Union (EU) agreed to convene the Gulf-EU Dialogue. However, this Dialogue was given an official character by the signing of the Bilateral Cooperation Agreement between the GCC and the EU in 1988. Accordingly, negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement began in 1991.
On the basis of the Free Trade Agreement, ministerial and senior official meetings are convened every year in order to discuss political issues and bilateral relations of interest to the two parties. In addition, the GCC and the EU discuss matters pertaining to the development of and follow-up to the mutual cooperation between the parties.
Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC)
First: The Background of IOR-ARC
The IOR-ARC was founded in 1997, with its first meeting held in Mauritius from 5 to 7 March 1997; a Charter was adopted that defined the formal framework of the IOR-ARC under the title of “Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation.”
The Sultanate of Oman was one of the founding members of the IOR-ARC in the late nineties, and the goal of its creation was to achieve tangible regional cooperation between the Member States through employment of labour, energy and markets. The IOR-ARC currently includes 21 member countries: the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius, India, Mozambique, Madagascar, Somalia, Kenya, Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tanzania, South Africa and Indonesia. The name of the Association (formerly called ‘Indian Ocean Rim Association’), was changed to ‘Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC)’, and its Headquarter is in Mauritius.
Second: The Basic Principles of the IOR-ARC
- IOR-ARC member states shall facilitate and support economic cooperation, and convene meetings of the representatives of governments, business people and academics;
- IOR-ARC Member States shall cooperate within the framework of the Association to ensure full respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, political independence, non-interference in others’ internal affairs, peaceful coexistence and mutual benefits.
- Cooperation within the framework of the IOR-ARC is not considered a substitute for bilateral and multilateral cooperation, but it seeks to promote, complement and conform to such cooperation.
- Every sovereign Indian Ocean country that agrees on the principles and objectives of the IOR-ARC Charter has the right of accession to the Association.
- IOR-ARC member states shall seek to achieve the objectives of the Association, and shall not undertake objectives that would impair its activity.
- Decisions of the IOR-ARC Member States shall be taken by consensus.
- IOR-ARC Member States shall exclude bilateral issues and other matters of controversy that would impede the efforts of the desired regional cooperation with regard to IOR-ARC discussions.
Third: The Objectives of the IOR-ARC
– To support sustainable growth and balanced development both in the region and in IOR-ARC Member States, and to create common ground for regional economic cooperation.
– To focus on the areas of economic cooperation that would provide maximum opportunities to develop common interests and reap the fruits of mutual benefits. The IOR-ARC shall be strengthened to achieve this end, that is, to formulate and implement the projects of economic cooperation with regard to the aspects of facilitating and supporting trade liberalization; supporting and encouraging the investment of foreign economic cooperation projects, scientific and technological exchanges and tourism; facilitating without discrimination the movement of persons who provide services; improving the basic infrastructure; and developing human resources as specified in the IOR-ARC working program.
– To study all the possibilities and ways of achieving trade liberalization in order to increase and diversify trade between the IOR-ARC Member States.
– To identify other areas of cooperation as may be agreed upon.
– To promote close interaction with trade and industry, academic institutions, scholars and peoples of the IOR-ARC Member States without discrimination and prejudice to the obligations of the Member States and other regional conventions.
– To strengthen the bonds of cooperation and dialogue among the IOR-ARC Member States in international forums on issues of common interest.
– To support cooperation in the field of human resources development through the establishment of closer links between training institutes, universities and other specialized associations in the IOR-ARC Member States.
Fourth: The IOR-ARC Membership
The membership is open to all sovereign states overlooking the Indian Ocean which adhere to the principles and objectives enshrined in the Charter of the IOR-ARC. However, the expansion of the IOR-ARC membership is a decision to be made by its Member States.
Fifth: The Dialogue Partner
This status is granted to independent states that are non-members of the IOR-ARC which have special interests and the potential to contribute positively to the work of the Association. This status is currently given to China, Egypt, France, Japan, United Kingdom, United States and Germany.
Sixth: The Observer Member
This status is granted to the observer member of international or regional organizations that have the desire or the capability to contribute to the IOR-ARC. This status is currently given to the Indian Ocean Tourism Organization (IOTO) and the Indian Ocean Research Group (IORG).
Seventh: The Sultanate of Oman’s Role in the IOR-ARC
The Sultanate was among the first seven states that sought to establish an economic grouping of countries overlooking the Indian Ocean. Additionally, the Sultanate is an important and an active member of the IOR-ARC, as it hosts significant centers of the Association, such as the Fisheries Support Unit (FSU) and Maritime Transport Council (MTC). Subsequently, Oman will host a tourism resources center, and be continuously involved in meetings and events held by the IOR-ARC. Indeed, the membership of the IOR-ARC is considered as an open gateway to revive the historical links of cooperation and interaction among the Indian Ocean countries.