Deputy Prime Minister
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY: A VITAL PART OF THE APEC AGENDA
Leader of the National Party
Minister for Trade
The Hon Tim Fischer MP
The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
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It is a great pleasure to deliver the Annual Oration of the Academy's symposium. I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to you about the role of science and technology in the context of APEC.
The timing of this symposium is particularly auspicious with the news last week that an Australian scientist, Dr Peter Doherty, has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. His award continues a great tradition of Australian achievement in this field.
Today, I would like to focus on three issues.
First, I want briefly to examine the links between science and technology, economic performance and international economic cooperation.
With this in mind I want, secondly, to outline how the Australian Government is working to ensure that developments in science, technology and engineering are serving the interest that Australia, and indeed all countries, have in improved standards of living. In this context, I would like to set out how APEC is tackling its science and technology agenda.
Thirdly, I want to make some comments about how the Government is pursuing, through international organisations, the strengthening of an international intellectual property regime.
Science, Technology and Economic Growth
Science and technology issues are integral to discussions about improving economic performance and strengthening economic cooperation.
One of this century's major lessons is that the economic performance of a country cannot be isolated from its performance in science and technology, or its investment in research and development.
The fact is that science and technology are vitally important to good economic performance.
Since the turn of the century, per capita incomes in the OECD nations have increased sixfold in real terms. The increases in real per capita incomes have mostly come as a result of increased productivity. This, in turn, is usually generated by increases in knowledge and technical advancements.
And of course, knowledge and technical advances are driven by developments in science, technology and engineering. The link is clear, and well understood. But it is not sufficient to ensure a country is able to take advantage of scientific breakthroughs.
Trade and Technology Transfer
In order to take full advantage of scientific and technological developments, a country must have access to research and developments in other countries and to obtain access, it is necessary to have strong ties - especially at a commercial level.
There is an important connection then between international trade and investment, and transfers of technology and knowledge.
It is in the interests of all countries to encourage the transfer of scientific knowledge and technologies. There are two reasons for this.
First, much of the world's scientific research and development occurs in five countries, the USA, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
This means that if other countries, whether developed or developing, are to obtain the benefits to be derived from advances in technology, they must have access to the technology developed in these countries.
The second reason is that, notwithstanding the dominance of the five countries I mentioned, there is much valuable research being conducted in other countries - and Australia can be proud of its contribution.
A number of countries are developing specialisations in specific areas of scientific research and technology development.
Australia, for example, presently has an advantage in a number of areas including natural resource science, agricultural technology, geoscience and ecology.
Other countries in our region, like Singapore, India, South Korea and Taiwan are specialising in areas such as engineering, computing and chemistry.
It is obviously to our advantage to make use of the specialisations being developed in our region. And it is usually in the interest of the country which develops a specialisation to export its expertise.
The key mechanism for transferring technology is trade and investment, and through the cooperative links this fosters.
APEC's Science and Technology Agenda
Australia's science and technology links with the Asia Pacific are very important.
The Asia Pacific region includes a number of major economies, like the United States and Japan, which, in different ways, have led innovation over the past 50 years.
Australia, too, has very strong research capabilities and is leading the way in a range of areas.
The region's rapidly industrialising economies are also developing their research bases, as they confront the challenge of basing growth on innovation and ideas, rather than low-cost labour.
South Korea, for example, has placed a high priority on building a strong research and technological base as its economy matures. Malaysia is also emphasising improved technology as the basis of future growth.
APEC is likely to play an important role in shaping regional developments in science and technology as this transition continues.
Over the last few years, APEC has developed into the region's main institution for economic cooperation. It is a forum where regional economies come together to discuss and plan for the future. In a region of great diversity, APEC has already been successful in brokering agreements between regional countries to enable greater cooperation.
In addition to negotiations towards achieving the primary goal of achieving regional free trade, APEC has integrated a series of working groups on issues like the environment, energy, science and technology.
APEC's Science and Technology Ministers have already identified a number of priorities for regional work in this area. These include encouraging exchanges of researchers, promoting cooperative research projects and encouraging greater policy dialogue.
The APEC Industrial Science and Technology Working Group has been working assiduously to develop detailed programs.
In 1995, the Group completed a number of projects, including the establishment of an APEC Technomart in Korea.
At its most recent meeting, the Group agreed to an Australian proposal for an APEC Science and Technology Website and agreed to undertake new work on clean production and technologies.
APEC Science and Technology Ministers will meet for the second time in Korea later this year.
My colleague, Peter McGauran, Minister for Science and Technology, will be leading Australia's delegation to that meeting. It is likely to focus on ways to promote the mobility of scientists and technologies in the APEC region. I know that he is keenly interested in receiving views from the research community on how these issues can be further developed through APEC.
APEC's work in other areas also has important implications for the promotion of science and technology.
Through cooperative efforts on human resources, for example, APEC has been looking at the performance of education systems throughout the region in areas like mathematics and the natural sciences.
The energy working group is examining new environmentally sound technologies. The telecommunications working group is focusing on electronic data interchange.
The broader APEC work to liberalise and facilitate trade and investment is also playing a very important role. As Trade Minister, I have given high priority to APEC's broad agenda since the Coalition government was elected.
Towards a Strengthened Intellectual Property Regime
The international transfer of science, technology and engineering naturally needs to take place on a basis which is fair and reasonable to all parties. To ensure this, strong intellectual property laws are required to protect investors in research and development.
Enforceable standards of intellectual property will minimise piracy and counterfeiting. They will enable rights holders to recoup investment outlays which, of course, is a necessary incentive to continue creative and productive work.
A strong intellectual property regime is also critical to providing certainty to investment decisions.
In this area, two principal issues of interest need continued attention.
One is the establishment of protection for intellectual property on a world-wide basis.
Here the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is central. TRIPS provides for minimum standards of intellectual property protection on a global basis.
The TRIPS provisions are based on existing rights and obligations established by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). But the TRIPS Agreement now makes rights enforceable through WTO dispute settlement mechanisms for the first time.
For developing countries, the implementation of TRIPS standards is required by the year 2000. This is particularly important for Australia in the context of our trading relations with our Asia Pacific partners.
TRIPS will provide Australian exporters of intellectual property with greater certainty about their ability to protect creative inventions, innovations, goods or services both in Australia and overseas.
This will not only benefit developed countries. For many developing countries, especially in Asia, protection of intellectual property rights is of growing importance in terms of their economic growth and encouragement of investment.
That is why Australia is engaged in considerable technical cooperation to help countries in the region come to terms with the new intellectual property standards. For example, Australia funds a specialised training program in Indonesia on how to implement TRIPS.
Discussion on intellectual property in forums such as APEC, will also assist greatly the process of familiarising developing member economies with intellectual property issues.
The second issue of interest is about creating a framework to facilitate access and use of intellectual property arising from research projects undertaken in conjunction with other countries.
This is primarily an issue for the investors and creators of intellectual property.
Australian companies, universities and research institutions need to ensure that they maintain high standards to protect their intellectual property.
They should put in place frameworks which regulate the access and use of intellectual property by all parties to a research activity. They should also ensure that they understand their rights and obligations in relation to intellectual property created by joint research activities.
The establishment of high standards of intellectual property protection on a global basis will, I think, be a significant element in securing Australia's place in the world economy of the future. It will be the key to safeguarding leading-edge intellectual property generated by Australian research institutions.
Let me conclude by making two fundamental points about the role of science, technology and engineering and Australia's economic development.
First, the Coalition Government understands fully that science, technology and engineering are central to advances in productivity and new product development. Science and technology underpins Australia's economic future in an increasingly competitive world.
Secondly, international and regional organisations like APEC are the key negotiating forums in which we can establish a workable regime to protect the intellectual property that Australian researchers create.
APEC is also important because it establishes a direct link between science and technology issues and efforts to strengthen regional trade and investment. It is tackling head-on the important issue of technology transfer.
The Australian Government is committed to making the most of Australia's undoubted excellence in key areas of science, technology and engineering research and development. We are also committed to encouraging free and fair international access to scientific and technological developments.
Australia's reputation as an innovator is well deserved. And it is due to the efforts of those here tonight, and all your colleagues, that we can be proud to call Australia a clever country.