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  • Low Chilean R&D figures spur government action

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[SANTIAGO] The new Chilean government has told SciDev.Net how it will improve research and development (R&D) spending, following revelations that it is spending less on R&D than previously thought.

Chile's investment in R&D, calculated to be almost 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004, was only 0.4 per cent in 2008, according to the government's latest Innovation Survey, which used a new method to calculate spending.

The sum US$674 million sum may have fallen even further in 2009 because of the global financial crisis, warned the report, released last month (17 August).

The survey used measurement criteria from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group of mostly developed market economies, rather than its previous method, which overestimated R&D spending by universities, said economy minister Juan Andrés Fontaine.

The figures reveal Chile to be behind Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in Latin America — and last among members of the OECD, to which it was recently admitted.

Andrés Barriga, head of the Ministry of Economy's innovation, monitoring and assessment unit, told SciDev.Net that the government, which came to power in March, is hoping to attract private sector investment from home and abroad to reach its goal of doubling investment to 0.8 per cent of GDP by 2018.

Speaking for the first time about the government's plans for boosting R&D, Barriga said a bill will soon be sent to congress that substantially improves incentives for companies to invest in R&D. The timing and details of the bill have not been revealed.

"To strengthen the research link between companies and universities we will improve technology licensing as well as technology transfer and dissemination programmes," Barriga said.

Only five per cent of companies have joint research projects with universities and just 2.2 per cent with public research institutions, according to the survey.

The government also plans to have three foreign research centres, which bring their own funding, in the country by 2014. These include the Southern European Observatory (ESO) which recently announced it will build the world's largest telescope in northern Chile at a cost of more than US$1 billion.

Eduardo Bitrán, former president of the National Innovation Council, a high-level body involved in setting the country's long-term innovation strategy, agreed that the main challenge "is to create conditions for companies to invest more".

"Private investment in R&D and innovation has been falling systematically over the years, a reflection of the fact that Chile's economy is centred on the production of natural resources," he said.

But some leading scientists said that the revised R&D target is too low.
Juan Asenjo, president of the Chilean Academy of Sciences, said that private sector investment is important but "the government must more than double its own investment in basic and applied sciences and innovation by 2018.

"Providing incentive for private companies to increase research is also important but the main effort must come from the government," he said.

Link to Innovation Survey [in Spanish]

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