Beyond defense, blue economy collaboration can deepen India-Philippines relations
On May 27, India and the Philippines held their first ever India-Philippines Marine Fisheries and Aquaculture Virtual Trade Conference (IPBC-MFA). The virtual trade event brought together representatives from the Indian fishing industry, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Fisheries Inc. and the Indian Embassy in Manila.
Cooperation between India and the Philippines in the blue economy relies heavily on the Indian Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI). In 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed the establishment of an IPOI for a secure and stable maritime domain. Much of the focus of such an initiative lies in building partnerships among interested states to improve maritime safety, the sustainable use of marine resources, and disaster prevention and management. The IPBC-MFA reflects the expansion of Indo-Philippine cooperation beyond the traditional sphere of defense engagements towards that of the blue economy.
Maximize the tuna industry
One of the main points of discussion during the IPBC-MFA focused on the potential of the Philippines to invest in establishing tuna processing facilities in India or to import its necessary tuna raw materials from the country of South Asia. According to Cherian Kurian, managing director of Indian company M / S HIC ABF Special Foods, India largely produces ready-to-canning tuna. In this light, the Philippines’ global leadership in processing and canning tuna greatly complements India’s ability to produce such a resource.
Tuna is one of the biggest seafood exports from the Philippines. The country’s tuna industry accounts for around US $ 300 million to its export economy and employs around 120,000 workers. In addition, Frabelle Fishing Corp. President Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr noted that tuna fishing in India is also a potential opportunity for local fish producers. Laurel said that “the tuna fleet (of the Philippines) is ready to grow when it is invited to fish”.
However, the executive director of the Canned Tuna Association of the Philippines, Francisco Buencamino, suggested that it might be more pragmatic to import raw tuna production from India and process it locally. This is more advantageous since the Philippines has preferential tariff privileges to the European Union (EU) for the export of tuna. Additionally, Kurian noted that India’s potential for oceanic tuna resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is around 2.13 million metric tonnes.
India and the Philippines can cooperate effectively as partners in the cultivation of the tuna industry. In theory, if India starts exporting ever larger volumes of tuna to the Philippines, the Philippines may be able to significantly strengthen and improve their processing and canning capacities. This will lead to a synchronous effort to expand cooperation in the Blue Ocean economy.
Cultivating the seaweed industry
During the IPBC-MFA venture, Dr Munisamy Shanmugham, Vice President of Aqua Agro Processing Manamaduria, highlighted the importance of investing in seaweed in India. He said that “there is a huge demand for seaweed hydrocolloids in India, but currently 50 to 90 percent are met by imports. The statement comes at a time when the Indian government has allocated a budget of INR 640 crore (US $ 88.34 million) to promote the seaweed industry and provide subsidies for its cultivation.
India has just recently started establishing its processing facilities to produce carrageenan, a value-added form of processed seaweed. However, the Philippines has established itself as a world leader in carrageenans and algae and established their processing facilities much earlier than other countries. In fact, the Philippines was the first country in the world to develop the Kappaphycus algae species for the commercial cultivation of carrageenan.
The Philippines continues to operate a large area of seaweed farm for expansion. Alfredro Pedrosa III, President of the Philippine Algae Industry Association, told the virtual conference that “These are the resources that sustain our industry. We have an available agricultural area of 200,000 hectares along the coast. Only 60,000 hectares are cultivated. We have 500,000 hectares of cultivable area available in deep water.
This opens up another important opportunity for India-Philippines collaboration in the seaweed industry, especially as domestic demand exceeds supply. In addition, the strength of the Philippines in technology, experience and research in the seaweed industry serves as an important basis to consolidate the partnership of the two countries.
Exploit the shrimp industry
A third area of India-Philippines collaboration under the IPOI is the shrimp industry. India can extend its valuable expertise, technology and research to the Philippines as this Southeast Asian country continues to be plagued by the challenges posed by shrimp diseases. In addition, it should be noted that India is the world’s largest exporter of shrimp in terms of value, with exports from January to October 2020 worth US $ 3.5 billion.
India’s shrimp farming area is around 160,000 hectares. One of the highest production of farmed shrimp in one year in 2019 was reaching around 805,000 metric tons. However, it still has a huge potential area of 1.2 million hectares of brackish water, of which only 10 percent is used. As a result, India’s capacity and know-how in the shrimp industry can be of great benefit to the Philippines to improve and maximize the capacity of its shrimp industry.
Future trajectory of the multidimensional India-Philippines relationship
The launch of the IPBC-MFA is a defining moment in forging a closer and more dynamic Philippines-India relationship. Although the bilateral defense partnership of the two countries has grown considerably since 2014, the start of such an event has largely demonstrated the willingness of New Delhi and Manila not only to deepen their cooperation in existing areas, but also the extent of engagement and exploring areas with untapped potential. The success of the virtual meeting will become a major springboard for more diverse engagements in the future, which will effectively cultivate a more solid and multidimensional bilateral partnership between India and the Philippines.
This article first appeared on ORF.
Warning:Don McLain Gill is an international affairs researcher and author based in the Philippines. The opinions expressed are personal.
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