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[BUENOS AIRES] Argentina has proposed that one per cent of the interest that it pays to foreign creditors – which currently amounts to US$120 million a year – should be reinvested in the country’s science and technology.

Under a scheme known as 'debt for knowledge', the money would be allocated to a special trust fund. If foreign creditors agree to the idea, it would be managed by national science authorities and external creditors, and would be used for a variety of science projects.

This novel scheme is one of three new funding mechanisms that are being proposed by the new government of president Néstor Kirchner to boost the country’s science and technology, and to ensure that research is focused on local needs.

The proposed mechanisms are part of a plan that secretary of science, Tulio Del Bono presented to the parliamentary science commission earlier this month, setting out how the new government intends to meet its target of more than doubling spending on research and development.

Under the proposals, part of the US$79 million that the government has promised to spend on science next year would come from the public budget. But the rest of the money would be obtained from new ways of funding.

The 'debt for knowledge' scheme would be used to raise some of this. "If external creditors want Argentina to pay them, they should accept this proposal as a way of using science and technology as motors of the country's development", secretary of science, Del Bono told SciDev.Net. He points out that Ireland put into a practice a similar idea several years ago.

The second mechanism would be a risk-capital fund into which the government would initially invest US$ 6.2 million. The fund – which would need to be approved by Congress – would be used to finance innovative technological companies, especially those set up by young scientists, Del Bono said.

The third proposal is to imitate the 'sectoral funds' scheme introduced two years ago in Brazil. Under this system, money would be raised through a tax on companies working in sectors ­such as biotechnology, energy, and fuel, and subsequently used to fund research in that area.

"We are suggesting that sectoral funds be set up if the agreement with privatised services companies is renegotiated," says Del Bono. 

The three proposed mechanisms are part of a plan for science and technology that will be put before Congress at the end of September.

"The mechanisms – among other ideas – will [also] be debated on 1 September during a special workshop for legislators, researchers and entrepreneurs about funding for Argentinean science," says Lilia Puig de Stubrin, president of the science commission.

"The first [debt for knowledge] mechanism is an excellent idea, but it depends on substantial negotiations with external creditors," says Luis Quesada Allué, a biochemistry researcher from the Argentinean Science and Technology Council (Conicet) and the Leloir Institute in Buenos Aires.

“The risk-capital fund would be very innovative, but the sectoral funds would address funding for certain scientific areas according to the interest of the private companies," he says. "However, these ways of funding should not be the main boost for the Argentine science: the government should increase the public budget". 

Link to draft science plan