Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1 First off, allow me to thank Minister for International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane for the excellent arrangements and warm hospitality accorded to me and my delegation. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank Indonesia, for its excellent leadership of IORA in the past two years, and we look forward to South Africa's chairmanship over the next two years.

2 The genesis of IORA was the brainchild of former President Nelson Mandela, who in 1995 advocated the idea of an Indian Ocean Rim organisation to promote socio-economic cooperation. It is therefore fitting that South Africa will now lead IORA. I am confident that under your chairmanship, IORA will continue to make great strides in its development.

3 Chair and colleagues, the Indian Ocean region has been a vital lifeline for our countries over the generations, as a channel for trade, as well as the flow of culture and people. There is much potential for this region to develop further and today's gathering is a reflection of our combined aspirations to do more together. Since our inception, we have grown from 14 to 21 members and remain open to interest from like-minded countries. Given the global importance of the Indian Ocean region, I commend IORA's engagement of our Dialogue Partners, to identify concrete areas of cooperation.

4 South Africa has highlighted important priorities that will guide our work for these two years. These include Blue Economy, Women's Economic Empowerment, SME promotion, Youth Empowerment as well as Science and Technology. The topics are relevant across the diverse membership of this group and crucial for sustainable development.

5 The Indian Ocean region offers tremendous economic potential. The oceans provide key resources, from food, hydrocarbons to other forms of renewable blue energy including wind, wave, tidal, thermal and biomass. It is thus timely that we give serious thought to how we can harness these resources in a responsible and sustainable manner, consistent with existing international rules and norms � such as the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. As we continue to discuss the Blue Economy, it will allow us to learn from one another and explore ways in which we can grow the Blue Economy for the shared benefits of all.

6 SME promotion is another area of potential for IORA Member States. I am happy to see that we are taking steps to help our SMEs build linkages across the Indian Ocean region through the MOU on the promotion of SMEs. Singapore will deposit our signed MOU at this meeting.

7 Indeed, South Africa's theme of Uniting the Peoples of Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Middle East through Enhanced Cooperation for Peace, Stability and Sustainable Development, reminds us that we cannot achieve development alone. Singapore remains committed to working with fellow members to support this theme.

8 Apart from the frank exchange of views in settings such as this, courses and capacity building programmes held across the IORA countries provide an opportunity for the sharing of experiences. The Singapore Cooperation Programme (SCP) is one example, having hosted over 20,000 individuals from IORA countries in our capacity building programmes.

9 We further support the priority areas laid out in the Action Plan for 2017 to 2021. In line with the priority area of Maritime Safety and Security, I am pleased to announce that Singapore will be hosting a Strategic Planning for Ports course for IORA Member States from 29 January to 2 February 2018. I believe copies of the course brochure have been circulated to all delegations. We were heartened by the excellent response to the inaugural run of this course and look forward to your participation in this edition as well. Singapore will also be launching a Tourism Management and Destination Marketing course for IORA Member States in 2018, in support of the priority area on Tourism and Cultural Exchanges.

10 I look forward to having fruitful discussions with my fellow colleagues today. But before I close, I would like to extend my appreciation to Secretary General Ambassador Bhagirath for his dedication and excellent leadership of the IORA Secretariat in the past six years. He oversaw significant milestones during this tenure, with IORA becoming an Observer at the UN General Assembly and the African Union, as well as the first-ever commemorative summit in March this year in Jakarta, Indonesia. Ambassador Bhagirath, it is with some regret that we have to let you go but we wish you well in your future endeavours.

11 Thank you.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore