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[MANILA] Developing countries need an international policy framework for harmonising strategies on technology and innovation if they are to catch up with developed countries industrially, according to a report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Developing countries' demands for technology transfer from North to South have long been debated in the international arena.

Now, emerging economies have a chance to drive their own technological development through increased South–South collaboration, says the report, 'Technology and Innovation Report 2012: Exploring the South for Technological Empowerment and Innovation Capacity', published last month (31 October).

These countries' economic growth has been fuelled, in part, by investments in technologies, the report says, and the economic growth and capacity for technology and innovation are mutually reinforcing.

In some areas — trade in capital goods (machinery, equipment and other production-related goods), for example — partnerships between developing countries are now more common than North-South collaborations.  

But this trade increase has not been accompanied by a growth in South-South collaboration on technology and innovation, the report finds.

The benefits of South-South collaboration includes tailoring partnerships to ensure they serve broad social and economic goals. It is also likely that developing or emerging country partners may better understand the constraints facing innovation in developing countries and have techniques for overcoming these, and possess a wider range of cost-effective technologies geared towards southern contexts.  

Lourdes Orijola, from the Department of Science and Technology in the Philippines, says: "South-South cooperation [...] should be explored, particularly in Asia where there are countries, like India, with advanced [...] technologies with grassroots applications that are relevant to developing countries like the Philippines".

The UNCTAD report describes examples of successful joint ventures in the developing world.

The Ugandan pharmaceutical company Quality Chemicals, for example, has collaborated with the Indian firm Cipla, with backing from the Ugandan government. Cipla provides training and skills transfer to Ugandan scientists and managers, while the Ugandan government has provided investment, paid the salaries of Indian trainers, and committed to purchasing drugs.

To build on such examples more effectively to enable the long-term growth of more fruitful South-South collaborations, the report argues for a strong policy framework and proposes a clear set of principles.

It also suggests implementing a 'South-South Technology and Innovation Pact', as a specific policy instrument to provide institutional support at three levels: promoting technological learning and enterprise development; financing innovations specifically needed in developing countries; and acting as a platform for sharing innovation experience.

But William Padolina, a former science and technology minister in the Philippines, says the flourishing of South-South collaboration on technology and innovation will depend on many factors.

"One needs to look at the whole system, from governance to support — even the trivial things like whether materials are available and delivered on time," he tells SciDev.Net.

"Among many things, the ICT [information and communication technologies] infrastructure should be in place," Padolina adds. "We need to look at the intellectual property [IP] protection regime. How we settle disputes is also important, even in the judiciary, because many IP disputes need a very well informed system."

Link to full report [1.56MB]