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NUMERO 20 - 29/10/2014

 BRICS cooperation in science, technology and innovation: rhetoric and realities

Goldman Sachs Asset Management former Chairman Jim O’Neill’s identification of the BRICs as a significant economic bloc is little more than a decade old.  Over that time, recession notwithstanding, the BRICs have grown in economic power and reach far beyond expectation. Then in 2011, and to some surprise, medium-sized South Africa, already a member of the G-20 and the major voice on the continent of Africa, formally joined the BRICs. This decision was met also with domestic scepticism, as seen in political cartoonist Zapiro’s depiction. South Africa is shown as the junior partner, the small briquette. In fact it remains O’Neill’s view that South Africa has no business whatsoever to be at the main table. His position rests upon economic considerations, especially the global importance of the individual BRICS in terms of GDP and trade but ignores geopolitics (except where this is factored in as risk), diplomacy, intangibles and other modes of engagement, STI included. One of the secondary objectives of this paper is to dispel O’Neill’s claim. The primary objective of this paper is to consider the rhetoric and reality concerning BRICS cooperation in science, technology and innovation (STI). This matter is now of topical interest following the Cape Town Declaration of 10 February 2014 through which the BRICS Ministers of Science and Technology committed the five signatories to a programme of STI cooperation. The Declaration includes the decision to allocate sectoral responsibilities to each party: climate change and disaster mitigation to Brazil; water resources and pollution treatment to Russia; geospatial technology and applications to India; new and renewable energy, and energy efficiency to China; astronomy to South Africa. The Declaration was to have been ratified at the BRICS Fortaleza Summit of July 2014 that brought the five presidents together, but was overshadowed by events in Crimea/Ukraine, and the launch of the New Development Bank ($100 billion capitalization) and Contingent Reserve Allocation (also $100 billion). It is expected that the Declaration will be ratified early in 2015 at a meeting of the BRICS Science and Technology Ministers. Science possesses the veneer of neutrality, and as such is an important adjunct of soft diplomacy, as for example in the table tennis tournaments of the 1975 Nixon-Zedong rapprochement. For its part science had a history of acting as a channel for dialogue among city-states and nations both before and after the Enlightenment. This is also true of technology with its obvious military import, where stealth and capture was often the mechanism for knowledge transfer. Business innovation is intimately linked with economic competition and spreads through different mechanisms of linkage among firms and manifests through imitation, reverse engineering, adaptation, and creativity. The Cape Town Declaration acknowledges the lead role of science and technology for long-term development, and builds on the rising importance of the BRICS nations in contributing to the global stock of knowledge. Indeed over 2002-2007 Brazil, China and India doubled their respective gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) and their share of global GERD rose from 17 to 24 percent. China’s world share of GERD is now on par with its share of world GDP, and between 2004 and 2010 its world share of scientific publications doubled. There have been major shifts in the locus of scientific publishing signified in the new triad of the USA, Europe and Asia, with Asia expected to become the dominant scientific continent in the medium term. As will be argued below, international co-publication has also risen steeply over this period. International scientific cooperation is surging forward, with the Cape Town Declaration seeking to capture some of this momentum for the BRICS. The Declaration raises a number of questions as to the viability of cooperation in STI. In particular what is the present state of STI cooperation amongst the BRICS group? What is the rationale behind the choice of the five fields? How does each of the countries stand in these fields?  How do these fields align with country domestic strategies for STI? What bilateral STI agreements are already in place, and what have they delivered? How does the Cape Town Declaration align or compromise the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) collaboration process? Will the rising geopolitical tensions (Black Sea; China Sea) limit the scope of STI cooperation? Underscoring these questions is the role, if not legitimacy of the smallest player, South Africa. It is thus of more than academic interest to unpack the potential of the to-be-ratified Cape Town Declaration, and to separate the rhetoric from the reality. A convenient means of providing tentative answers to these questions is through a PESTEL analysis. Space considerations dictate that this will entail attention at macro level, with a more detailed look necessarily given to ‘Technology,’ for which one should read ‘STI.’  Document analysis, economic, social and STI indicators, together with bibliometrics will provide the empirical basis. The paper is organized as follows. After this Introduction, the next section provides the PES(T)EL analysis. The third section is devoted to the ‘T’ of PES(T)EL, namely an examination of the state of STI in each of the BRICS countries. The fourth section then builds on the preceding using publication data as a proxy measure of cooperation among the BRICS. These findings, together with various national imperatives allow for the nascent BRICS STI Declaration to be interrogated. The final section places STI cooperation in the much larger context of geopolitics: the Russia-China energy accord; India’s assertive foreign policy; South Africa as the ‘Gateway to Africa,’ and Brazil’s dual role in Africa as commodity exploiter and entrepreneur... (segue)

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