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[MEXICO CITY] The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has criticised Mexico for the poor performance of its science and technology (S&T) sector.

OECD deputy secretary Pier Carlo Padoan, presenting 'Reviews of Innovation Policy: Mexico' in Mexico City last month (13 January) said that Mexico has been slow to realise the importance of innovation investment as a driver of growth and competitiveness.

The report, an assessment of S&T in 2007 and 2008, says that Mexico has lost competitiveness in knowledge-based activities. It ranks lowest of OECD member countries in scientific productivity, developing scientific human resources, S&T investment, levels of science education, and patent applications.

Mexico needs to increase investment in research and technological innovation, and raise the number of PhD positions from 2,000 to 3,600 and the number of scientists from 15,000 to 20,000 by 2010.

Agustin Garcia-Lopez, permanent OECD representative of Mexico, said the country must try harder to increase competitiveness. The current investment in S&T is 0.5 per cent of the gross domestic product — just below the average investment in Latin America of 0.55 per cent.

Rafael Loyola, of the Institute of Social Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, agreed with the OECD. "Mexico experiences a held-back investment in science, technology and innovation, which explains why the country has descended in the World Economic Forum's ranking of competitiveness from 38 in 2000 to 60 in 2008".

Loyola said that since 2000, Mexico's National Council on Science and Technology's (CONACYT's) policies have privileged the technological development of private companies over the state sector.

"Between 2000 and 2008, CONACYT spent 20 billion pesos (US$1.3 billion) in a tax exemption programme for companies investing in research and development, whereas basic research only received US$385 million in the same period."

In the same week (14 January) CONACYT announced the termination of its tax exemption programme, criticised for paying multinational companies to carry out R&D (see Mexico tax exemption scheme garners criticism).

The programme disbursed US$310 million in 2008, 85 per cent of which went to multinational companies.

Three new programmes to support different innovation stages in companies — particularly small and medium companies — will instead be established.

Leonardo Rios, director of technological development and businesses innovation at CONACYT acknowledged that Mexican science is experiencing problems, but said the situation was improving.

He told SciDev.Net that the new programmes will largely support companies that invest in public sector research.

And while an OECD recommendation indicates that the country must define priorities in research and innovation, Rios said that the unique priority in CONACYT is "the link between universities and industries".