[MANILA] South-East Asian countries have agreed to strengthen regional cooperation in science and technology as part of plans to form a single economic community by 2015.
The ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) endorsed the Krabi Initiative — a framework for intra-regional cooperation on science, technology and innovation (STI) — last month (17 December) at the 6th Informal ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Science and Technology in Krabi, Thailand.
Inspired by the European model, the ASEAN region wants economic integration and a single market by 2015.
Emir Rio Krishna, technical officer for science and technology at the ASEAN secretariat in Indonesia, told SciDev.Net that the initiative would combine the resources and talents of the region while using individual nations' comparative competencies to strengthen the region's STI.
The ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The region, home to 600 million people, sits strategically near rapidly growing China and the developed countries of Japan and South Korea, three countries with which it is actively pursuing close cooperation in science and technology, along with Australia, India and New Zealand.
Even with Singapore, by far the most economically successful ASEAN country, in the equation, the region's contribution to global STI is nominal, said Luis Arriola, a former Philippine government official handling business and exports, and an analyst of ASEAN affairs.
One obstacle to science cooperation is the gap between the research capabilities of the countries. Krishna said that although details are not yet finalised, part of the initiative will be to provide ASEAN assistance to least developed members.
Financing for training and seminars will come from the ASEAN Science Fund, a central fund into which members are asked to donate US$1 million a year, and from partners such as China, India and Japan.
It is also hoped that the initiative will enable scientists to travel more within the region, and also that it will encourage the private sector to spend more on research.
Krishna said eight areas were identified as priorities for increasing the competitiveness of the region and improving quality of life: developing innovations for the world market; a regional digital society; embracing new media and social networking; green technology; food and energy security; water resource management; biodiversity and lifetime scientific learning.
Graciano Yumul Jr., the Philippines' science and technology undersecretary and among those who attended the ministerial meeting, told SciDev.Net that the Krabi Initiative built upon the 2007–2011 ASEAN Plan of Action on Science and Technology (APAST), with its six priority programmes agreed in Manila in 1996.
These were: early warning systems for disaster management (led by Indonesia); biofuels (Malaysia); application and development of open source systems (also by Indonesia); functional food (Thailand); climate change (Philippines and Vietname) and health (Singapore). He added that the ministers have agreed to extend APAST until 2015 to synchronise with the single community target.
The next ministerial meeting is arranged tentatively for May 2011 in Cambodia.