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Thailand must lay emphasis on R&D, says NSTDA chief

Oct 28. 2013
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By KHINE KYAW
THE NATION

THAILAND needs to promote more research and development and public-private partnerships (PPP) to overcome its weakness in knowledge-based infrastructure, experts said last week.

“We have to work with the private sector to ensure research-based innovation. The first Thailand Science Park is an innovation hub and home of the NSTDA (National Science and Technology Development Agency), where we place 2,700 people and 60 companies. We hope to work with 160 new companies from now to 2016,” said Thaweesak Koanantakool, president of the NSTDA.

Compared to other developed countries in Asia, Thailand usually spends very little on research and development (R&D) and there are very few R&D personnel, 9.1 out of 10,000 people, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2013, he told a seminar held by the European Asean Business Centre (EABC).

Thailand needs more R&D to get out of the middle-income trap, a World Bank report says.

Emin Turan, managing director of Sanofi-Pasteur Thailand, considers PPP as a pathway to technology and know-how.

“PPP can be a fast-track access to technology, know-how and intellectual property for a country. Development of human capital should be seen as a key priority. Only people with knowledge, skills and commitment can innovate,” he said.

PPP should be based on a win-win model, so fairness for both parties is vital. Progress needs to be monitored and requires consistency and efficiency. Once agreed, principles should be followed. Short-term priority changes should not impact the long-term vision. Developed skills and know-how will spread to foster the expansion of the country’s innovation capability, he said.

“We need collaboration because |we can reduce a lot of costs and we can get new markets,” said Kitipong Promwong, director of policy research and management at the National Science Technology and Innovation Policy Office. Thailand has many success stories in using innovation to boost product competitiveness. Thaweesak said that, for example, Thailand produces a lot of rubber, but rubber products need a lot of improvements.

“When we produce higher value-added and environmentally friendly rubber products, we are generating more income [Bt240 million per year],” he said.

Ammonia was replaced with a less toxic substance for preservation before processing, sulphuric acid was replaced with some other materials to reduce toxic wastes and new substances (Grass 2 and 3) were developed for higher productivity.

Other examples were an agro-multipurpose, five-tonne truck that runs on biodiesel and a mobile water filtration system that utilises a silver nano-coated ceramic filter with portable solar cells to provide high-quality, clean and potable water during natural disasters such as floods.

“The competitiveness in doing business is quite good but we are not so good in science and technology. But for exports, I would like to ensure that we are No 1 in natural rubber and chicken meat. We also achieve a good ranking in sugar, hard-disk drives and rice exports. And we are a global auto manufacturing hub, since we manufacture 2.2 million cars,” he said.

Several companies set good examples in private sector innovation. SCG transformed commodities into high value-added products, while CP has innovated in the chicken and seafood industry.

Innovations from Betagro include a probes array – a DNA-based system that can help control, monitor and track sources of listeria contamination in farm operations and food production facilities more effectively – and low-fat sausages.

Mitr Phol ranked fifth in global sugar production in 2010-11. Its innovations include the Mitr Phol value chain, IT innovation for business use, management for drought-risk areas and MP11 super yeast, which improves ethanol production efficiency.

FlexoResearch, which was featured in TIME magazine in 2010, invented a non-recyclable laminated paper waste recovery enzyme.

Samart Kasetyon has exported sugarcane harvesters to Brazil while Keeen has solved an industrial waste treatment problem.

The Science and Technology Ministry considers innovation as a breakthrough to sustainable growth.

“We confess that we can make use of science, technology and innovation to empower the local community, improve the quality of life and enhance our competitiveness,” Science Minister Phiraphan Phalusuk said in his keynote address at the seminar.

He is also positive on Thai-EU relations and the Asean Economic Community (AEC). “The coming of the AEC in 2015 gives us a significant economic and cooperation platform. How to respond to the new market with more than 600 billion new customers and also new colleagues with their new products to compete with our local businesses?” he asked.

The EU is the fourth-largest trading partner of Thailand and the third-largest trading partner of Asean, he said. The EABC is now cooperating with the Science Ministry.

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