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Science, Technology, and Innovation Policies in Brazil

By Alexandra Bobak
December 18, 2012

If Brazil is to become a more effective innovator, the country needs to bolster its education system, promote greater productivity in all sectors, and attract more private sector involvement. Experts, speaking at the Inter-American Dialogue on December 18, agreed in their prognosis, but noted that the path to promoting greater innovation in Brazil is still up for debate.

Additional Resources

Panelist presentations:

Robert Atkinson

Otaviano Canuto

Naércio Menezes

ITIF's Global Innovation Policy Index

Innovation will be key to lifting Brazil out of its current middle-income trap, suggested Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Dialogue. Effective government policies can create an economic environment conducive to innovation. Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), noted that ITIF’s Global Innovation Policy Index, which measures the effectiveness of government policies aimed at building innovation, ranks Brazil’s innovation policy in the middle of the lower tier compared to 55 other countries. Brazil has the highest mean tariff rate of all the nations studied, and its bureaucracy creates weeks of procedures in order to start a business when, “in Singapore, the same procedures take minutes,” said Atkinson.

Otaviano Canuto, vice president of the World Bank and head of its Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network, advocated for expanding attention beyond just technology when thinking about innovation. Atkinson agreed, noting that often governments associate and base their policies on the thought that innovation is solely science, and high-tech products like the iPad, when really innovation needs to be looked at in a broader context. Atkinson mentioned that policies should promote the acquisition of skills in all sectors, improve productivity throughout the country, and boost the use of communication and technology for all citizens.

Education is directly linked to productivity, and leads to more innovation and less inequality, contended Naércio Menezes, director at the Center for Public Policies at the Insper Institute. Brazil’s education system has improved substantially in the last 20 years with a consistent higher net enrollment rate and falling education wage differentials since 1992. Still, the overall quality of the education system remains poor compared with other middle-income countries and doesn’t produce the skilled labor force that Brazil needs. The segregation of the university system and the business sector also dampen productivity. Ronaldo Mota Sardenberg, former minister of science and technology in Brazil and representative of Brazil to the UN, agreed, saying that Brazil needs to focus as much on improving human capital through education, as it does on direct investment in science and technology programs. He called for more money in the education system, including investment in the public and private university systems.

Panelists offered wide-ranging policy options to address Brazil’s obstacles to innovation. Ricardo Mendes, managing partner at Perspectiva Consulting, emphasized the need to open up space for the private sector to generate innovative models and practices. “The government understands this problem exists but they seem to be addressing it with just more government, which is not working,” he said. Creating tax policy incentives for business, openness to foreign direct investment, and allowing high skilled immigration would bring more private competition and expand companies working to innovate, said Atkinson. Canuto said polices including building technology infrastructure, like broadband, should be emphasized. And Menezes argued the key is to improve the quality of education, and innovation will follow. While it is easy to see the obstacles Brazil faces to promoting greater innovation, the solutions are not as straightforward. The panelists agreed that it will take many comprehensive policies to tackle these challenges and bolster innovation in today’s Brazil.