Interview: Enrique Cabrero
Is the government’s goal of raising investment in research and innovation to 1% of GDP viable?
ENRIQUE CABRERO: This goal was set on the first day of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term. In 2012 investment in this area stood at 0.4% of GDP, and in two years we have managed to reach 0.5% of GDP, with plans to reach 0.6% in 2015. According to experts, and from what we have seen in countries such as Ireland and South Korea, when a country is capable of reaching investment equivalent to 1% of GDP in science and technology, the innovation and technology curve begins to take off. In the case of Mexico, we are growing the budget exponentially and should reach the goal of 1% of GDP by the end of Nieto’s term in office.
What is being done to encourage private sector investment in research and innovation?
CABRERO: The main programme that fosters private sector investment in research and innovation is called the Innovation Stimuli Programme. CONACYT has over $260m for this programme. Private sector companies must apply, and after careful review of their application the money is granted to the best projects, which are usually companies working in collaboration with research centres and academic institutions. In the past, Mexico has implemented tax incentive programmes to foster research and innovation. Unfortunately, these programmes did not have the expected results, and so the government decided to opt for the Innovation Stimuli Programme instead. Currently, we are examining the possibility of running a combination of both programmes: a tax incentive scheme and a subsidy programme.
Which sectors have seen the most research and innovation in the past two to three years?
CABRERO: ICT, nanoscience, aerospace, biotechnology and energy are the sectors that are currently allocating the most capital to research and innovation. It will be interesting to see what the energy reform brings in terms of investment in research and innovation. Even before the reform bill was passed, CONACYT and the Ministry of Energy had a fund – the Conacyt-SenerHydrocarbons Fund – aimed at fostering research and development in the hydrocarbons and renewable energy industries. This is the largest sectoral fund in terms of research, and it has allowed the country to develop technology for the exploitation of its natural resources. The energy reform changes a few administrative aspects of the fund, but in general it confirms its importance and consolidates it as the main research and innovation fund in the energy sector.
What is being done to improve access to credit for technological enterprises?
CABRERO: The federal government has multiple mechanisms to foster the acquisition of credit by entrepreneurs, including Nacional Financiera (NAFINSA) and the National Institute for Entrepreneurship (Instituto Nacional para el Emprendedor, INADEM). Even though we have mechanisms to offer capital to tech enterprises, we are encouraging the private sector to join INADEM and NAFINSA in offering more credit to young Mexican entrepreneurs. Commercial banks and financial institutions are still not offering competitive credit, and until they do so, investment will be limited.
CONACYT’s budget increased by 20.5% in 2014. How are these additional funds being utilised?
CABRERO: During this administration, the number of scholarships offered has increased by 30% to reach 59,000 people, with over 6000 students studying in the US, Europe, Japan and elsewhere. Another project is mapping Mexico’s regional technology capabilities. This is known as the Regional Innovation Agendas programme, where we called upon the private, public and academic sectors to identify the most developed scientific and innovative sectors in each state in order to nurture them and increase their competitive advantages. We are also raising the number of CONACYT public research centres in the country from the current total of 27.
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