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Contextualising Blue Economy in Asia-Pacific Region

Exploring Pathways for a Regional Cooperation Framework

This Policy Brief studies the current status of ocean economy in Asia-Pacific and explores the future development of blue economy framework in order to achieve SDG-14 - Life Below Water.
  • Blue economy promotes economic growth, social inclusion and improvement of livelihoods while at the same time ensuring environmental sustainability. With no single or universal definition, the conceptof blue economy is gaining prominence due to the potential of the framework to form interlinkages. The Fluidity of Blue economy framework allows the creation of pathways for integrated strategies and actions for oceans with room to evolve in accordance with emerging challenges and opportunities.


  • For the purpose of the policy brief, the Asia-Pacific region includes South Asia, South-East Asia, East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Small Island Developing countries. The region is home to developed, developing and least developing economies (LDCs). Around 13 countries in Asia are Least Developing with 9 of them being island or coastal economies.


  • Ocean-based sectors contribute significantly to the economic growth of Asia-Pacific countries, additionally for some of the island nations — oceans are at the core of socio-economic functioning. The share of blue economy in the GDP of Asia-Pacific countries varies from as low as 1% to as high as 30% and in a few island nations the GDP contribution is as high as 87%.


  • The Asia-pacific region is the backbone of Global Maritime trade with major Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) within its region. According to UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 2019, 64% of the container port traffic occurred in the Asian region alone. Among the top 50 global container ports, 9 of the 10 are located in Asia, and 7 of the top 10 are from China.


  • Global ship production is dominated by the three Asian countries — Republic of Korea, China, and Japan — representing 90% of the global shipbuilding activities. In the ship-breaking sector, Asian countries like Bangladesh, India and Pakistan lead in the maritime supply chain where Bangladesh made 47.2% of this segment followed by India at 25.6% and Pakistan at 21.5%.


  • Out of all the three sub-regions, East Asia-Pacific accounts for more than half of Asia-Pacific’s international tourist arrivals and receipts. The region’s strength lies in trade and globalization and thus the region provides excellent connectivity, thus attracting a lot of tourists. Similarly, the Southeast Asian countries’ GDP has a high dependence on tourism because of the high influx of international tourists.


  • The region contributes significantly to the global food basket through its fisheries sector. The Asia-Pacific region is a major world producer of fish and fisheries products, and Asia (excluding China) occupies around 34% of the global fishing and aquaculture market. The total fish production has almost doubled in Asia in the last 20 years. Fish farming is also dominated by the Asian countries that have produced 89% of the global total in volume terms in the last 20 years. China alone has produced more farmed aquatic food than the rest of the world since 1991.


  • Around 85% of the total population employed in the fishing sector globally, is in Asia. Asia has the largest fishing fleet as well in the world, standing at 3.1 million vessels or 68% of the total in 2018. Almost 75% of the reported motorized fleet in 2018 was in Asia.


  • Asia has consistently been accounting for almost two-thirds of the global inland water production since the mid-2000s and accounted for 57% of total inland water catches in 2018. The world’s top six inland waters capture production is in Asian countries, out of which China produces almost 16% of the world’s inland water capture fisheries, followed by India (14%), Bangladesh (10%), Myanmar (7%), Cambodia (4%) and Indonesia (4%).


  • Asia-Pacific region is known for its rich coastal and marine resources. Coastal tourism is expanding in ​​​​​​​the region as more than 8% of the world’s mangrove areas are in this region. The Sundarban Delta is the world’s largest continuous stretch of mangroves. The Great Barrier reef is also a key ecologically fragile zone in the region.


  • The rich biodiversity and abundance of mineral and ocean-based resources has led to accelerated movement towards exploring and  developing seabed mineral and marine resources for high technology sectors, pharmaceutical industry among others. Harnessing blue biotechnology is a rising technology and innovation area in the blue economy. In the Asia-Pacific, China, India, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia are expected to become significant markets for marine biotechnology within a reasonable time-frame.


  • The increasing need for mineral resources is leading countries to look towards ocean beds. Deep-sea mining is one of the emerging sectors of blue economy that requires significant R&D capacity and finance. China, India, Korea, Japan are the major players from Asia participating in the International Seabed Authority processes. Other Asian countries that are venturing into deep-sea mining include Singapore and few SIDS states.


  • The ocean is a poorly-policed frontier with the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic exacerbating the offshore law enforcement gap as coast guards and navies look inward to manage and relieve domestic crises rather than police the open waters.


  • Pirates, poachers and smugglers will continue operating and may have a greater incentive to resort to crime due to the global recession. This would include a probable increase in Illicit fishing as well. In contrast, legal industrial fishing operations are likely to decline, especially over the near term, from a combination of the risk of being at sea in a pandemic and supply chain complications caused by market closures.


  • Lack of up-to-date ocean science data will be problematic (due to reduction in operational research cruises) to assess stocks and management regimes especially in data-poor regions of the developing world. These market disruptions as a result of the pandemic will greatly affect the trade of fish which is the most widely traded food commodity.


  • Beyond the fishing industry, ocean tourism will suffer as travel slows due to the pandemic. Coral reef tourism generates $36 billion per year, a value that has been a key driver in marine conservation. Lost revenues may increase pressure for near-term exploitation. Small Island and lesser developed countries are particularly vulnerable to the downturn in tourism.


  • With the highest concentration of global population with a majority of them socio-economically vulnerable, the impact of climate change is already visible in the region. Sea level rise, extreme weather events and natural disasters are on a rise. The rise of global health crises such as COVID 19, accentuates these vulnerabilities and the changing climate also aids the spread of diseases.


  • While regional organisations like APEC are focusing on ocean health and blue economy sectors, regional level cooperation across the region is necessary to interlink blue economy initiatives that are being implemented at national or sub-regional level.

Dr. Christian Hübner


Head of the Regional Programme Energy Security and Climate Change Asia-Pacific +852 28822245