Summary of discussions
(Monday, 9 July 2007, 4.30 – 6 p.m.)
1. The discussion was chaired by H.E. Mr. Mohlabi Kenneth Tsekoa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lesotho. He recalled that to integrate themselves into the world economy, least developed countries need to increase their competitiveness and to that end, it is essential to bridge the technology divide between developed countries and least developed countries. Paradoxically, while modern technology is easily available, it is hardly accessible to least developed countries. As a result, they remain disadvantaged in trade and manufacturing, innovation and learning, agricultural production, etc. This impedes their efforts to increase production, create jobs, generate wealth, achieve food security and eradicate poverty.
2. Mr. Charles Gore, Senior Economic Affairs Officer and Chief of Research and Policy Analysis in the Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes in the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) presented the main conclusions of the issue paper “Globalization and the Least Developed Countries: Issues in Technology”.
3. In his presentation, Mr. Gore recalled the importance of building productive capacities through capital accumulation and technological change. He emphasized that globalization should involve innovative actions both by the governments of the developed countries and those of the emerging economies. These actions need to be driven by the private sector through the development of public-private partnership (PPP) arrangements.
4. He added that while least developed countries are integrated into the global economy, they have a very low level of technological development. Structural adjustment programmes that most of the least developed countries pursued so vigorously have dismantled their industrial base. New directions are now needed to increase agricultural productivity, develop manufacturing industries and expand productive employment outside the agricultural sector.
5. To escape from the trap of poverty, these countries need new policies that could narrow the technology gap and increase the knowledge intensity of the economy. They need to increase their local value-added and competitiveness through the development of training, learning and knowledge. Least developed countries also need financial resources as well as the know-how.
6. Finally, Mr. Gore mapped out some actions that least developed countries can take to bridge the technology gap, including through the mainstreaming of science and technology in their national development policies. He underscored that they will require active policies to promote industrial productivity and the Green Revolution. Actions of their development partners could include the increase of Official Development Assistance (ODA) for science and technology development, the transfer of technology within the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights regimes (TRIPS) and addressing the issue of ‘brain drain’, He also emphasized the central role of South-South cooperation in technology learning and awareness.
7. During the discussion that followed Mr. Gore’s presentation, some participants mentioned that access to technology is part of the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2001-2010. Acquisition, transfer, diffusion and development of technologies could boost economic growth and ensure sustainable development in these countries.
8. Other participants noted that while access to new and emerging technologies is important, technology should also be appropriate to the levels of development of least developed countries. Participants stated that the transfer of technology should avoid the “one size fits all” approach and include both agricultural and non-agricultural technology. Some participants argued that to be competitive in the tradable sector, least developed countries do not only need modern but also state-of-the-art technology. Others underscored the importance of the absorptive capabilities of the least developed countries for successful technology transfer as well as the need for blending the cutting-edge technology with indigenous knowledge.
9. The affordability of technology in view of the financial constraints faced by least developed countries was identified as the most important aspect of technology diffusion to these countries. In this regard, the critical role of Official Development Assistance for science and technology development was underscored in a number of interventions. The importance of mobilization of domestic resources was also emphasized. Participants recognized that the least developed countries themselves are responsible for their development and should identify their own needs, increase their budget allocation to research and development and use their own materials. They must assume full ownership and take the lead role in turning the information and communication technology into a vital development tool.
10. Participants further stated that since least developed countries were primarily dependant on labour intensive technology, the use of modern technology negatively affects their unemployment levels. Therefore, employment should be carefully taken into account while formulating technology policy development in least developed countries. It is imperative to look for alternative sources of employment for people when adopting new technology. In this regard, some participants referred to the experience of some developing countries that were successful in introducing new sectors that had absorbed labour freed by technology diffusion.
11. All participants agreed that learning and education underpin any technology transfer. In this regard, least developed countries need to develop core competencies and technological capabilities. Investing in people is necessary to develop the capacity to use transferred technology. Infrastructure and capacity development are a sine qua non for access to new information and communication technologies
12. Participants expressed their concern about ‘brain drain’ which impedes the efficient use of technology in least developed countries. They suggested that science and technology should be used both to prevent ‘brain drain’ and to ensure the effective replacement of emigrants. Official Development Assistance for education and training was also mentioned as a potential leverage in the fight against ‘brain drain’ in least developed countries.
13. Participants were unanimous in their view that least developed countries need balanced intellectual property rights. The representative of the World Intellectual Property Organization informed the Conference about technology centres to be established in each of the least developed countries. The first centre in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is already functional. Three new centres will open in 2007 in Cambodia, Ethiopia and Bangladesh. These centers aim at stimulating technological, industrial and economic development, providing advisory services and promoting the use of technological infrastructure to the research and development as well as business communities.
14. Some delegations argued that least developed countries needed full flexibility in Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
15. Participants recognized that South-South, North-South and triangular cooperation plays a central role in technology transfer. Interregional cooperation like Africa-Asia partnership is also a good vehicle for transferring affordable technology. Cooperation between least developed countries and emerging economies should also be further strengthened and nurtured.
16. Turkey was cited as exemplary in promoting South-South cooperation and all participants thanked this country for taking the initiative of organizing the least developed countries Conference on “Making Globalization Work for the Least Developed Countries”. They said such initiatives should be further encouraged.