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  Edition nº 26

Interview

Competitive Advantage

The Chairman of Canada's Science, Technology and Innovation Council states that investments in Research and Development (R&D), destined to strategic areas of the country may provide economic and social advantages in the future
Daniela Talamoni

An innovative idea, to the extent of fostering scientific studies aimed at transforming it into essential products and services for a country's development, may originate in any sector. Canada, however, decided to destine funds to four sectors viewed as strategic: environmental science; natural resources and energy; medical and biological sciences; and information and communications technology. "The objective is to invest in segments that may, in the long term, provide economic and social advantages", explains Howard Alper, chairman of Canada's Science, Technology and Innovation Council (STIC). In an interview with the "Brasil-Canada" magazine, Alper shows how the private sector and universities contribute to progress in science, technology and innovation in the country and emphasizes the importance of the partnership between Canada and Brazil and the shared common interests, such as the production of the next generation of biofuels. "Partnering may reduce the costs and risks involved in this kind of investment".

"Brasil-Canada" magazine – Canada decided to destine funds to four science and technology sectors viewed as strategic. What does the country expect to achieve with these investments?

Howard Alper – The government is committed to creating competitive advantages for the country. This investment fosters productivity and growth, and increases market advantages. Funds destined for research will also foster scientific discoveries, innovation, the development of qualified professionals, the creation of jobs and even set up barriers against possible economic crises. The objective is to invest in the sectors of environmental science (water and reduction of pollutants, for example), natural resources and energy (adaptation to climate change and biofuels), medical and biological sciences (regenerative medicine, neuroscience and biomedical engineering) and information and communication technologies (new media and broad band networks), that in the long term may provide the country competitive advantages.

BC – Where will the funds come from that are needed to implement the projects?

HA – Most of the investment in research and development (54%) will come from the private sector. In 2008, this amounted to approximately US$ 16 billion, destined to small, medium and large companies. Universities also cooperated by financing research networks and fostering national and international partnerships. Higher education received 35% of the available funds. In turn, municipal, state and the federal governments implemented incentive policies for public institutions and laboratories to foster initiatives at the local, regional or national levels. As for government support for companies, most of the funds were made available in the form of fiscal advantages. In my view, what are needed are more direct grants by the government. Of the US$ 29.5 billion spent on science and technology in 2008, the Canadian government directly financed US$ 5.6 billion.

"Higher education accounts for 35% of expenses with science and technology"

BC – What importance does the proximity of Canada and Brazil have for the development of science, technology and innovation?

HA – Since signing the cooperation agreement on science, technology and innovation in 2008, relations between the two countries strengthened and contribute to reducing risks and costs of this kind of investment. Brazil has abundant natural resources, it is a superpower in South America and a global leader in agroindustry. The country is also committed, with the help of authorities in key positions in society, to applying incentives for innovation and technology to sustain economic growth and improve the quality of life of its citizens. By working together, Canada and Brazil may expand partnerships and opportunities in financing research, providing access to technology and know how in many sectors.

BC – Which sectors provide the most opportunities for this partnership's success?

HA – The sectors of joint cooperation under the Canada-Brazil cooperation agreement have yet to be officially established, but clearly the two countries have common interests. For example, both have emerging biofuel industries and seek to develop the next generation of biofuels. Brazil also has experience in the production and use of ethanol as a source of energy, which made its sugarcane industry take off. Canada, in turn, controls the transformation of cellulosic biomaterial into ethanol and the extraction and production of specific bioproducts. Therefore, at the most recent meeting of the Joint Economic and Trade Council, in 2009, Canada committed to developing a proposal to define the guidelines for future cooperation with Brazil in the energy industry. But that is not all. We will encourage Brazilian companies to take into consideration in the joint negotiations, investments in sectors in which Canadá already is very strong, such as the environmental area, medical and biological sciences, and information and communication technologies.

BC – How can Brazilian and Canadian universities cooperate in developing strategic research for their countries?

HA – There are more than a hundred agreements in effect between Canadian and Brazilian institutions, many of which lack government support, reflecting the dynamic academic and cooperative relations that exist between the countries. The Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade also offers scholarships to foreigners, members of academia and future opinion builders, so that they may enjoy the excellence of Canadian universities and create lasting partnerships. Through the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program (ELAP), the Canadian government granted 117 scholarships to Brazilian students last year. For the period 2010 - 2011, the number of beneficiaries will be about the same. Apart from that, Canada and Brazil are about to sign a memorandum of understanding to implement research projects in key areas of joint cooperation, such as science and technology, which will be led by staff of both countries, comprising up to five graduate level researchers from each country.
Translation to English: BeKom Comunicação Internacional


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