Government raises R&D spending target

Thailand’s economic czar challenged local businesses to become developers of innovation rather than consumers of innovative developments, as the government raised its target last week for investment in research and development (R&D) from 1 percent of gross domestic produce this year to 1.5 percent by 2021.

“Innovation is important to drive the country’s competitiveness and increase GDP (gross domestic product) growth, but most Thai businesses behave like followers instead of leaders in terms of innovative products and services development,” said Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusriptak, who oversees the government’s economic ministries and guides economic policy.

Somkid was speaking at the CEO Innovation Forum hosted by the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office (STI). Spending on R&D, which equaled 0.78 percent of total GDP in 2016, was estimated at 0.9 percent in 2017 and is expected to reach1 percent this year, some $5.1 billion, the forum was told.

Innovation is at the heart of Thailand 4.0, the 20-year national strategy to lift Thailand from its status as a manufacturer of products designed by others to a nation where innovation, R&D, creativity and higher and green technologies are the foundations of economic and societal development.

Currently, the private sector accounts for 73 percent of spending on R&D with government investments making up the remaining 27 percent. While that is a positive trend, Somkid said the problem is that 15 large corporations are responsible for the overwhelming majority of private sector spending on R&D. That means only a handful of local firms are striving for innovation, and the lack of breadth and depth in the business community as far investing in R&D is hindering national development.

“We need to drive innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises as well as digital entrepreneurs and startups for long-term sustainable development,” Somkid said.

Kitipong Promwong, secretary-general of STI, said a survey found the service sector increased R&D investment sharply for the first time in 2016 as digital disruption forced banks and insurance companies to invest some $153 million in building fintech, including e-payment platforms.

According to the Bangkok Post, Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee said the government will construct three major platforms. The first is the bio-digital platform that uses technology from genomes and digital data such as bio-banks, gene banks and bio-informatics.

The second is cyber-physical, which prepares integration among the cyber and physical world over the long term via high-performance computing, smart business, the Internet of Value, blockchain, and data analytics.

The last platform is earth-space and covers food for the future, biomedical, renewable energy and climate technology.