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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Brazil's science minister, Eduardo Campos, has asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to support efforts to persuade the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that spending on science should be treated as infrastructure investment, rather than current expenditure.

Such a move would allow Brazil to increase substantially its fund for science, since public expenditure is currently being held back by the terms of the country's loans from the IMF. These state that such expenditure must not represent more than 3.75 per cent of the gross national product (GDP).

Last month, the IMF agreed in principle to a request from Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio 'Lula' da Silva, that spending on infrastructure projects — such as roads and telecommunications — should be treated as investment, and thus excluded from the cap on expenditure (or 'primary surplus').

So far, however, there has been no response from Lula to an open letter addressed to him by the National Forum of State Secretaries of Science and Technology and the National Forum of Funding Agencies, seeking to include spending on science, technology and innovation in the infrastructure calculations.

In their letter, the two organisations emphasise that such a move would make it easier for the country to increase spending on improving its science and technology infrastructure, and thus on promoting its scientific and technological development.

The idea of including science, technology and innovation in Lula's approach to the IMF was first raised at the beginning of this year, and has been discussed by key Brazilian scientific organisations and societies, which subsequently signed the document.

It is also supported by the minister of science and technology, Eduardo Campos. "I am sure that this initiative will provide new opportunities and open new horizons in the debate on financial resources for science and technology," he says. 

Ennio Candotti, president of the Brazilian Society for the Advancement of Science, who has been closely involved in debate on the issue, says that "it will be not a easy negotiation, but it is an important one".

The issue was raised last week by Campos with the director-general of UNESCO, Koichiro Matsuura, during a visit to the agency's headquarters in Paris.

According to a spokesperson for Campos, Matsuura agreed to consider the issue, and promised to explore ways of reducing the impact of bureaucratic procedures on the funding of science and technology.

After the meeting, Campos said that modifying the rules covering the IMF's loans was essential "to reach our goal of increasing funding on science and technology from 1.2 per cent to 2 per cent of GDP".

Candotti is also keen to involve other Latin American countries in the campaign to put pressure on international funding agencies. With this in mind, he raised this suggestion during a visit to Argentina last month, where he says it was well received.

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