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[AUCKLAND] Pacific rim nations’ attempts to deepen scientific cooperation as a means of fighting poverty and promoting sustainable development are still in their infancy, said senior science advisors at a high-level networking session in New Zealand.

The advisors, representing 16 of the 21 member economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), spoke to SciDev.Net on the meeting’s sidelines. It was the second event of its kind, following an inaugural one last year in Indonesia.

“We don’t have the authority to do more than be a talking shop, but it’s an important talking shop because science is becoming so important.”

Peter Gluckman, Chief science advisor, New Zealand

The science advisors’ group was established in 2012 at the suggestion of a joint recommendation by New Zealand and Russia, according to Peter Gluckman, the chief science advisor to New Zealand’s prime minister.
The 30 August meeting was planned to coincide with a larger one of scientists from nearly 50 countries: The Science Advice to Governments (28-29 August).

“We don’t have the authority to do more than be a talking shop,” Gluckman said of the APEC science advisor event. “But it’s an important talking shop because science is becoming so important.”
The meeting was closed to the media.

But Gluckman said some of the issues on the agenda were: facilitating the movement of young scientists around the region; defining common principles around research integrity; and building informal networks of science advisors that could be tapped in the event of emergencies.
Low Teck Seng, chief executive of Singapore’s National Research Foundation, said there were multiple opportunities for scientific collaboration among APEC economies.  

But he added that APEC’s chief purpose is economic cooperation, and its science advisors’ networking group has not yet formulated much of a science agenda.

“APEC is a very cumbersome organisation at this juncture in time,” he told SciDev.Net.

By contrast, he said, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has made some progress in that area.

Yet many APEC economies already have established their own networks for responding to natural disasters and health emergencies, such as disease outbreaks, Low added.

And APEC has established several joint projects geared toward deepening scientific partnerships.

For example, it has a regional association of universities representing two million students, according to APEC documents distributed at the Auckland meeting. APEC’s Policy Partnership on Science Technology and Innovation is also affiliated with regional science workshops and other events, according to its website.

The group that met in Auckland is officially called the APEC Economies’ Chief Science Advisors and Equivalents (CSA&Es).

One question to be decided by the advisors was whether the event would be a platform for further cooperation or else “primarily a networking meeting”, the conference documents said.

New Zealand’s Ministry of Innovation, Business and Employment, helped organise the meeting and supported expenses such as the venue hire, but participants funded their own travel and accommodation, said Gluckman.

“APEC CSA&Es discussed the opportunity to network and share best practice, which were considered a valuable function for the group,” he told SciDev.Net.

They also “considered that they are well positioned to assist as a collective resource for APEC leaders and fora, in a similar manner to the roles played in their individual economies”, Gluckman added.

Gluckman said the meeting’s co-chairs will submit a report on the meeting later this year to APEC, and the group has agreed to meet again in 2015.

Tateo Arimoto, director of the Science, Technology and Innovation Policy Program at the Japan Science and Technology Agency, said ahead of the meeting that many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are facing so-called “middle-income trap”, a phrase that describes economic stagnation in middle-income nations.

“In order to avoid that situation, we need science-based innovation,” he told SciDev.Net.

Arimoto said a few high priorities for APEC science collaboration should include creating national science academies and promoting joint research on oceans and biodiversity, as well as joint responses to disasters and infectious diseases.