Bay of Bengal Conversation 2020 Agenda

1. A new paradigm of regional cooperation for greater security in the region

Situated at the confluence of the geographies of South Asia and Southeast Asia, the demographic, economic and security developments taking place in the Bay of Bengal region have significant implications for Asia and the global order. Security and stability are sine qua non for economic cooperation. It is therefore imperative to collectively appraise the security architecture of the bay to identify the prevailing as well as potential threats facing the region.

 • How can a new paradigm of regional cooperation balance security concerns with economic imperatives, while respecting national sovereignty?

• What can be the centralized and inter-governmental mechanisms – that often ignore or under-estimate economic implications - deal with decentralized security threats and emerging geopolitical crises in the region?

• What role can the extra-littoral countries and global powers such as the US and China play in shaping security and economic cooperation in the region?

2. Climate change, displacement and risk of conflicts in the Bay of Bengal

The Bay of Bengal region’s already high vulnerability to natural disasters such as storm surges, cyclones, floods is likely to exacerbate in frequency and severity due to climate change, with huge economic and security implications. Adverse climate change will increase population displacement and migration pressures and exacerbate risks of conflicts within and beyond the region. While some of the countries in the region have made considerable progress in their respective national strategies for disaster response, natural resource management and climate action, yet, the region lacks an integrated, effective cooperation and institutional framework to address these risks.

• How can the regional economies exploit existing complementarities to achieve successful outcomes in climate action and, disaster preparedness, taking into account the nexus between climate change, migration and conflicts?

• How can countries pool resources and incentivize investments to build resilience against climatic shocks and augment adaptation efforts?

• How can the region form a unified and coherent voice to garner international support for its climate change adaptation efforts?

3. Reinvigorating regional growth through connectivity, trade and investment

The Bay of Bengal region continues to suffer from connectivity and infrastructure deficits. Despite the strong advocacy by various country leaders for enhanced connectivity initiatives and push for speeding up the process of finalizing the Free Trade Agreement, the region have not so far made satisfactory progress in this area.

• How can the region overcome its connectivity deficits, striking a balance between economic imperatives and security and sovereignty concerns?

• How can multi-stakeholder dialogues, private sector engagements and people-to-people contacts strengthen transport, transit and trade facilitation in the region?

• How can the region exploit and take advantage of extra-regional initiatives – such as the ASEAN and the Belt and Road Initiative – to foster regional connectivity and promote trade, investment and inclusive growth?

4. Addressing shared development challenges

The countries in the Bay of Bengal region continue to face common development challenges of persistent poverty, widening inequality and growing instability. Prospects for inclusive growth will depend heavily on the region’s ability to address the shared fundamental development issues. Improvements in poverty alleviation, health, technology and equity will contribute to more inclusive economic growth and achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) and assist the Bay of Bengal region to pay a key role in the global economy.

• How persistent poverty and rising inequality pose a risk to regional peace and stability?

• What lessons the region can draw from neighbouring East and South-East Asian economies to accelerate poverty reduction, tame inequality and promote more inclusive growth?

• What common policies and strategies the region can pursue to promote inclusive growth, taking into account the comparative advantages and complementarities of regional economies?

5. Recalibrating institution and governance framework for cooperation

The nature of threats facing the Bay of Bengal region today requires a different approach that can blend in with its heterogeneous and complex economic environment and is based on felt needs and perceived benefits. Traditional state-led model of regional cooperation is increasingly inadequate and ineffective in addressing the multitude of development and security challenges confronting the region. There is a clear need for inclusive, bottom-up and multi-stakeholder approach to revitalize, and optimize the benefits of regional cooperation.

• What is a Bay of Bengal framework for regional cooperation?

• What roles regional institutions and think-tanks can play in identifying issues and setting the agenda for regional, multi-stakeholder dialogues?

• How can a new framework of regional dialogue promote inclusivity and effectiveness in strengthening cooperation?

6. Exploring Challenges of Inclusive Governance

The countries in the Bay of Bengal practice various forms of political representations in governance and face myriad challenges in ensuring the inclusivity of citizens and stakeholders, and establishing transparent and accountable political and social institutions.

•   Are there common lessons to be learnt from these experiences?

•     How can exchanges of ideas help to promote inclusive governance in the region?

•    Can cooperation among citizens, institutions and think-tanks be strengthened and developed to help improving the structures of governance?