Reimagining South Asia in 2030

Ninth South Asia Economic Summit (SAES IX)

Concept Note

Background of SAES Initiative

South Asia Economic Summit (SAES) was conceived as a platform to discuss and debate issues perceived critical to advancing the cause of deepening regional cooperation and integration in South Asia. As may be recalled here, five leading think tanks of South Asia took the lead in 2008 to hold the SAES. These were: Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS), Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE). These founding members were entrusted with the responsibility of convening an annual Summit, on a rotating basis. The Summits would bring together key stakeholders in South Asia’s integration, as also experts and scholars from beyond the region who worked on issues of interest and concern to South Asia.

The idea that informed the initiative was to bring together, Davos style, key stakeholders from the academia, policy and private sectors to come up with innovative ideas and actionable agendas to address emerging challenges in areas of economic development of countries and socio-economic advancement of people of South Asia. It was felt that there was a need for a deeper understanding of the problems and challenges confronting South Asia at a time of rapid changes within the region, and in view of a fast-evolving global scenario. SAES was to be a two-track learning opportunity: for researchers, to share results of evidence-based research and what these could mean in terms of policymaking in various critical areas of development and regional cooperation in South Asia; and for policymakers and non-state actors, to exchange views as regards major challenges in implementing the various policies and initiatives to deepen South Asian integration. By leveraging contributions from across a diverse range of disciplines and by drawing contributions from research and policymaking communities, SAES was envisaged to emerge as an intellectual enterprise of consequence in South Asia from which policymakers, researchers and non-state sectors would stand to gain. The wealth of knowledge produced through the SAES process was also envisaged to feed into the SAARC with a view to making the SAARC process more effective and SAARC decisions more evidence-based. In fact,

Table-1: A brief summary of previous SAES events

Events Host, Place and Dates Themes
First South Asia Economic Summit IPS-Colombo: 28 July-3 August 2008 Economic Integration in South Asia: SAFTA and Beyond
Second South Asia Economic Summit RIS-New Delhi: 10-12 December 2009 South Asia in the context of Global Financial Meltdown
Third South Asia Economic Summit SAWTEE and SACEPS-Kathmandu: 17-19 December 2010 Regional Economic Integration, Climate Change and Food Security: Agenda for the Decade 2011-2020
Fourth South Asia Economic Summit CPD-Dhaka: 22-23 October 2011 Global Recovery, New Risks and Sustainable Growth: Repositioning South Asia
Fifth South Asia Economic Summit SDPI-Islamabad: 11-13 September 2012 Making Growth Inclusive and Sustainable in South Asia
Sixth South Asia Economic Summit IPS-Colombo: 2-4 September 2013 Towards a Stronger, Dynamic & Inclusive South Asia
Seventh South Asia Economic Summit RIS-New Delhi: 5-7 November 2014 Towards South Asia Economic Union
Eighth South Asia Economic Summit SDPI-Islamabad: 7-8 December 2015 Regional Cooperation for Sustainable Development in South Asia

A look at Table-1 would show that various themes of past SAES conclaves have covered a broad spectrum of issues that reflect both emergent and emerging challenges facing South Asia at the particular time. The themes selected had both immediate and near-term relevance as well as  medium to long term consequence. In 2008 the SAES-I focused on issues related to establishment of free-trade area in South Asia; in 2009 SAES-II discussed issues of global financial and economic crises and what these meant for South Asia; in 2010 discussions at SAES-III centred on climate change and its implications for South Asia; in 2011 in the backdrop of the global economic recovery SAES-IV deliberations centred on how South Asian countries should calibrate their policies and reposition their economies in view of this; in 2012 discussion at SAES-V took place around inclusiveness and sustainability as two core objectives of economic development in South Asian context; in 2013 SAES-VI the theme was on identifying appropriate modalities to advance the cause of regional cooperation in South Asia in a way that would be both dynamic and inclusive; in 2014 the central theme of discussion at SAES-VII was how best to design policies towards a South Asia Economic Union ; in 2015, SAES-VIII held in Islamabad and hosted by the SDPI (a departure from the tradition of rotation as SAWTEE was not able to host the event because of the devastating earthquake in Nepal) chose Sustainable Development in South Asia as its theme. As can be seen from the choice of the abovementioned themes, successive SAES annual meets have strived to bring on board a wide range of issues to promote the cause of dynamic, inclusive and sustainable South Asian integration.

Each of the SAES meets have come up with a concrete set of recommendations based on discussions at various dedicated sessions which saw evidence-based presentations, lively exchange of opinion among leading scholars, policymakers, practitioners and representatives from NGOs and grass-roots organisations. Recommendations originating from SAES events were shared with policymakers in SAARC countries and have also fed into the SAARC Summit process. Papers presented at SAES events and proceedings and outputs of successive SAES meets have come out as dedicated volumes and were posted on websites of participating institutions. These constitute a rich repository of knowledge, policy options and policy recommendations concerning regional integration in the South Asia region.

Focus of SAES-IX in Dhaka

In view of the discussions that have taken place at the preceding SAES events, SAES-IX intends to take the discourse forward by (a) building on the earlier discussions held in preceding SAES events, (b) by taking into cognizance the new challenges facing South Asia in view of the regional and global dynamics; (c) by coming up with innovative ideas to address the emerging challenges in view of the SDGs and (d) by identifying concrete measures to implement the ideas.

The overarching theme of SAES-IX is “Reimagining South Asia in 2030”. Deliberations at SAES-IX would focus on envisioning a South Asia which by 2030 will be an upper middle income region with high GDP growth rate, a strong middle class, zero hard core poverty and hunger, sustainable cities, structurally transformed economies with strong manufacturing sector. As is known, 2030 is also the year when the goals and targets set out in the SDGs are to be attained in full measure. The SDGs commit the global community of nations to work towards a future that will be inclusive, equitable and sustainable. The future of the SDGs will, to a large extent, hinge on how South Asia is able to tackle the manifold challenges that inform the pathways towards 2030. Thinkers, practitioners and policy stakeholders dealing with developmental challenges in implementation of the Agenda in South Asia will need to deploy their collective expertise and wisdom to identify the roadmap to realize the vision 2030 as envisaged under the SDGs.  Think tanks involved in SAES initiatives are also actively contributing to SDGs debate through Southern Voices initiative of CPD by way of undertaking policy oriented research and disseminating the findings among the policy makers and stakeholders.

South Asia is also faced with new global challenges, such as Brexit. Since South Asia is linked with the economy of the UK through trade, investment and remittances, the UK’s decision to leave the EU may have implications for the South Asian countries.  South Asian least developed coutnries have been enjoying duty free quota free market access for their products to the EU market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) initiative which helped these coutries to increase their exports to the EU market significantly. Following Brexit, how trade relationship of Britain will take shape and whether such privileges will be offered by the UK or not and whether the UK economy will be strong enough to import from other developing countries within South Asia or not are issues to be considered.  How the UK will take investment decisions and whether it will make its immigration policy stricter for the South Asian citizens are matters of concern.

Therefore, business as usual will not do, and pathways dictated by past trends are unlikely to work. South Asia will need to think out of the box if its future is to be shaped in accordance with the high ambitions set out in the SDGs. SAES-IX in Dhaka will hopefully be an excellent opportunity to deliberate on some of the key issues of interest and concern to South Asia in this context. Designated experts will be invited to present keynote papers to kick-off the discussion at various sessions. Each session will have a number of guiding questions to set off the deliberations.

Proposed Sessions

Besides Inaugural and Closing Sessions, SAES-IX envisages the following sessions:

  • The Vision Session: Role of Political Leadership in South Asia – How will it look in 2030
  • Pathways to Sustainable Development by 2030 – What are the challenges for South Asia
  • Transforming South Asian Economy by 2030 – What do we want to achieve
  • Building Inclusive, Just and Peaceful Society in South Asia


Invited guests from abroad will include participants from SAES partner institutions and policymakers and experts from SAARC countries and experts invited by co-organisers. They will be joined by high level representatives from key stakeholder groups in Bangladesh including policymakers, experts, development practitioners and development partners.

Role of Partners

They will be knowledge partners in organizing SAES IX. Partners can be a part of SAES IX through resource commitments. They can also organize particular session(s) where they will sponsor participants of that session including participants’ airfare, lodging, food and other related expenses.


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