Beginning the mid-1980s, most countries, across all regions of the world, started to rapidly embark on the path of globalization and liberalization. The global wave of globalization and liberalization also created a compelling situation for South Asian countries to follow suit. This led South Asian governments and stakeholders alike to design strategies and implement measures that enhance their capacities to benefit from regional and global integration, and respond to the adverse implications of globalization for their economies.

In order to complement the efforts of South Asian governments and stakeholders, and to bring to the fore the views and concerns of the marginalized and poor segments of society, South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTEE) was launched in 1994 as a loose regional network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from five South Asian countries: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Taking into consideration the emerging need for fair, effective and meaningful integration of South Asian countries into the regional as well as global economies, the major motto of this regional initiative has been “GLOBALIZATION YES, BUT WITH SAFETY NETS”.

From 1994 to 1997, its secretariat was housed in Kolkata, India at the office of Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), a founding member institution of the network. With the emergence of consensus among network members, in 1997, SAWTEE's secretariat was moved to Kathmandu, Nepal. Since then, SAWTEE has strengthened its activities ranging from sensitization and awareness raising to independent and concrete policy research, capacity building and advocacy on trade, economic and environmental issues at local, national, regional and international levels.