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Innovation: The Brazilian experience
A government team, accompanied by members of the private sector, visited Brazil. One of the aims of the mission was to firm up BP’s offer to use our skilled energy sector staff in its Brazilian projects. The overall raison d’être for the visit was that Brazil, as one of the stars of the BRICs group, could be a good trading partner for T&T, given the economic slump that still exists in the North. The same can be said about the visit to India.
The results of the Brazilian visit include, as reported by the Energy Chamber, that there exists opportunities for our skilled energy sector people, service companies, to get niche jobs in Brazil (Trinidad Business Guardian, March 15). In fact, the Energy Chamber of T&T will be embarking on another trade mission to Brazil since that country presents a huge market for our service companies. This chamber sees that the export of basic energy services is a key element of this country’s diversification.
However, the report on the mission to Brazil missed the fundamental thrust of the Brazilian economy as it attempts to continue to make itself globally competitive in energy, manufacturing and services, that is, by the use of innovation in all of these sectors by increasing competitiveness in the large businesses and, in particular, developing small innovative businesses. Let me quote from “Brazil: Knowledge and Innovation for Competitiveness”:
“Brazil’s growth depends strongly on the export of manufactures and commodities, a dependence that is likely to con- tinue. Yet with few exceptions, Brazil’s manufacturing base lags with respect to innovation, especially when Brazil is compared with China or India, countries that have taken giant steps in growth-enhancing innovation. If recent trends continue, Brazil could continue to be mainly a supplier of primary commodities in the world market and an exporter of manufactured products to Mercusor and other Latin American countries.
“In other words, Brazil risks missing the opportunity to become a serious, diversified global competitor. Brazil needs not only to diversify and add value to commodities, but it must improve its competitiveness in manufacturing and service exports as well.” Hence, Brazil is now about creating and commercialising new knowledge and technology; acquiring and adapting global knowledge and technology; disseminating and using knowledge and technology already available in the country.
Brazil’s leadership in deep-sea drilling, ethanol production and in the aircraft industry depends on its indigenous innovation in these areas. For example, it is not simply growing sugar cane for ethanol, but is applying research and development from its local laboratories as to what kind of cane to use to improve ethanol yield from acreage, and about using ethanol to power its manufactured aircraft—the latter two an effective cluster.
Hence, Brazil, a world leader in oil production, created the Brazilian Innovation Agency, as a result of that country’s recognition that technological innovation is an instrument for social and economic development; it is one of the priorities of its government. This agency, also known as FINEP (Research and Projects Financing), provides grants to non-profit institutions, such as uni- versities and research centres, and lends to companies. It seeks to stimulate the increase in supply and demand for technology by integrating, networking, universities and research centres, consult- ing firms, contractors into the creation of services, products and processes.
FINEP’s ability to finance the entire science and technology and innovation by combining grants and loans as well as fiscal incentives has afforded that institution a great capacity for inducing activities aimed at developing and increasing Brazil’s competitive edge. In other words, the role of the Brazilian Government in the diversification and improvement of the competitiveness of the economy is not simply facilitative, but hands-on as expected in a developing economy, in the design, implementation and operation of its innovation system.
Yet on the return of our mission from the Brazilian trip, we heard nothing about what could have been learnt about creating a national innovation system from a country like ours that depends on the exploitation of commodities, oil, and gas.
Mary K King
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