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Why should scientists care about the world's biggest trade deal?

Posted by Chad O'Connor  February 18, 2014 06:00 AM

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Politicians, business executives, and, yes, even foreign diplomats, often tout innovation for its ability to be a key driving factor for economic growth. But there are only a few special regions in the world that have tapped innovation’s true potential. Boston and the United Kingdom both make that list.

However, in order for these innovation sectors to continue growing the United States and the European Union (of which the UK is a member state) need to work together. In 2013, talks began to establish a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US. This agreement aims to drive economic growth and create job opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic. Independent research shows that TTIP could boost the EU’s economy by $162bn, the US economy by $122bn and the global economy by $135bn.

Those numbers are staggering, and yet they are not widely known among actual innovators. My Science and Innovation team polled 200 of their key scientific stakeholders to ask what they thought of TTIP, if anything. Of the 157 respondents, less than a third had heard about the negotiations, and of those that did know about TTIP, only 10% thought that it would yield benefits to the scientific community. “It’s a piece of business policy, isn’t it?” one academic at Harvard University asked.

So why should scientists care? The answer is quite simple: because science is a global enterprise.

Together, millions of researchers around the world draw upon the world’s global Research & Development of $1.6 trillion to solve the world’s most pressing challenges – and they do it together. Today over 35% of articles published in international journals are internationally collaborative, an increase from 25% just 15 years ago. Collaboration not only enhances the quality and efficiency of scientific research, but also is increasingly necessary as budgets tighten and research challenges continue to stretch scientists’ limitations.

Scientific collaborations bring significant benefits, both in measurable outcomes (e.g. increased bilateral grant funding, increased citation impact, and access to new markets), and in outputs that are harder to quantify (e.g. increasing our understanding of how the world works). Scientists understand these benefits, and they are driven to work with the best talent they can find using the most powerful instruments currently available at research facilities across the globe.

Scientists are also aware of the significant challenges that international collaborations can bring. In order to create an infrastructure to support international science collaborations and business transactions long-term, TTIP will need to address the differences that create a barrier to commercialising technologies in US and EU markets. Rules and regulations vary widely across nations, making the research landscape tricky to translate across borders. Regulatory science, intellectual property, industrial innovation and public procurement, venture capital financing, and subsidies to firms are all issues that present differently depending upon whether you are in Boston or London.

The UK government has prioritised science as a key driver to economic growth. The UK set a long-term capital commitment for science spending in the summer of 2013, with a fixed £4.6bn resources budget (money for day-to-day research) and an inflation protected capital budget. To make the most of those investments, the UK needs collaboration with key international partners like the US. We intend to show leadership within TTIP negotiations to ensure that the issues that plague scientific partnerships can be circumvented as much as possible.

In Boston, my Science and Innovation team is working on just that. The UK Science and Innovation Network is a global part of the UK government committed to science diplomacy and fostering UK/US collaborations in science and innovation. On 25 February, we are hosting a collection of informative speakers (including Andrew Mitchell, UK Director of Prosperity; Eric Nakajima, Assistant Secretary for Innovation Policy in the MA Executive Office for Housing and Development; and Jonathan Poole, Senior Vice President of Finance at Shire Human Genome Therapies) at the British Consulate to discuss the opportunities and challenges TTIP could bring to the scientific community both here and abroad.

To register:

Susie Kitchens is Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul General, New England.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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