Equal Innovation Seen As Critical To Economic Growth, Achievement Of UN MDGs

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Slow and uneven economic growth was the main concern echoed by panellists participating in this morning’s high-level policy dialogue at the 2013 United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) substantive session. Representatives from various intergovernmental agencies shared their perspectives on the status of the global economy with respect to innovation and the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

All of the speakers participating in the high-level policy dialogue noted that the global economic recovery from the recession has been slow, and that economic activity worldwide remains subdued. It was argued that the recession had especially affected emerging economies, where the potential for growth is largely lower now than it was before the recession. The agenda for the week is here [pdf].

Global Economic Recovery

Néstor Osorio, President of ECOSOC, set the stage for discussions by saying that economic growth is at the “same sluggish pace” as it was in 2012. He said that in almost all of the world’s regions, growth will be well below potential and employment gains will remain low. The implications of this are slower poverty reduction and a narrowing of growth in sectors that are critical for achieving the MDGs.

In his keynote address, Lionel Fernández, former President of the Dominican Republic, argued that the global economic crisis has reversed the development gains made by developing countries, and that it threatens to undermine the achievement of the MDGs.

Expanding on the topic of innovation, the theme of this year’s ECOSOC, Zhu Min, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said that investing in research and development (R&D) support and gaining in competitiveness will be key to winning the growth game in the next five to 10 years. He also emphasised emerging markets as the critical economies to watch, since their once rapidly expanding economies have slowed significantly in the last three months.

Fernández pointed out that the total impact of the recession on the global economy is actually larger once one takes into account the effect it has had on innovation across the globe. Following the recession, investment in R&D dropped on a large scale internationally (especially in Europe, where austerity programmes were not favourable to such investments).

Interference with Patenting, Innovation in Developing Countries

Innovation and intellectual property were said to have been impacted by recession and slow economic growth. The crisis disrupted the innovation process, which, Fernández argued, had a negative impact on the global economy, since innovation is a major driver of economic growth.

Fernández noted that the number of patents sought worldwide also decreased during this period (a fact which Peru had illustrated by reference to its own country in its voluntary presentation the previous day). But whilst the number of patents has decreased overall, high-income countries still obtained 20 times more patents than middle-income economies, Fernández said.

By protecting innovators, patent laws have made it difficult for middle-income countries to innovate, he explained. He voiced support for mechanisms to share technological progress and reduce the innovation gap between developed and developing economies, and called for an international action plan to foster innovation within a healthy economic environment, saying it was important to consider whether the current intellectual property system adequately fosters innovation, facilitates technology transfer, and encourages knowledge sharing.

The United States asked Peru about technology transfer and the most important steps to address intellectual property issues and create a culture of prevention, sources said.

Fernández questioned whether the “financialisation” of the economy is compatible with the idea that finance should be used foremost as a tool for innovation. He said that finance should allocate resources for the real economy and should only act as an intermediary, at the service of innovation and therefore of development. He argued for rapid and transparent regulations to be implemented at the global level, not just national level, to curb the financial sector.

In his contribution to the discussion, Pascal Lamy, outgoing director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), clarified that financial deregulation should not be confused with open trade policies. Indeed, Lamy said that the best, short-term solution to slowed economic growth is to stimulate the economy by opening up international trade. He said this would be the swiftest, cheapest way to stimulate world growth.

Lamy urged continued efforts to counter protectionist tendencies and to maintain a high level of vigilance because it is “against common sense to be protectionist”. He argued that there is a need for regulation, but that this could be done in such a way that does not interfere with open trade. Increasing trade capacities, of developing countries in particular, is a necessary condition for further development.

Accelerating toward 2015 MDGs and Beyond

Again unanimous in their opinion, the speakers lauded the MDGs for focussing the international development agenda on poverty reduction. Fernández said it is now necessary to move towards a new economic paradigm to ensure that prosperity can be shared equitably around the world.

Despite meeting three out of the eight targets – on poverty, slums, and water – the economic crisis was said to have slowed progress on other targets. The speakers urged policymakers to work to increase acceleration towards 2015 and beyond.

Supachai Panitchpakdi, secretary-general of the UN Conference on Trade and Sustainable Development (UNCTAD), suggested that purely fiscal and technical measures are insufficient to solve the global economic problems. He noted that, “the elephant in the world is inequality” and that there is a need to deal with the public discontent that arises from this inequality. Panitchpakdi recommended inequality be the focus of the next ECOSOC.

Brittany Ngo is currently completing her Master’s in Health Policy and Global Health at the Yale School of Public Health and previously obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in Economics from Georgetown University. Through her studies she has developed an interest in health-related intellectual property issues. She is a summer intern at Intellectual Property Watch.

Caitlin McGivern is currently studying at the University of Law in London and will graduate with an LLM in 2014. She previously obtained a Bachelor’s of Arts in Philosophy and Theology from the University of Oxford. She is a summer intern at Intellectual Property Watch. She is of Swiss, Canadian and Irish nationalities.

Brittany Ngo may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

Caitlin McGivern may be reached at info@ip-watch.ch.

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