Since the 1990s, a global wave of market liberalization has produced an interconnected world economy that has brought unprecedented levels of activity and growth, along with structural changes whose consequences are not yet fully understood. Governments in many parts of the developing world have come to view science and technology (S&T) as integral to economic growth and development, and they have set out to build more knowledge-intensive economies in which research, its commercial exploitation, and intellectual work would play a growing role.
To that end, they have taken steps to open their markets to trade and foreign investment, develop or recast their S&T infrastructures, stimulate industrial R&D, expand their higher education systems, and build indigenous R&D capabilities. This has brought a great expansion of the world's S&T activities and their shift toward developing Asia, where most of the rapid growth has occurred. Governments there have implemented a host of policies to boost S&T capabilities as a means to ensuring their economies' competitive edge.
In most broad aspects of S&T activities, the United States continues to maintain a position of leadership but has experienced a gradual erosion of its position in many specific areas. Two contributing developments are the rapid increase in a broad range of Asian S&T capabilities outside of Japan and the fruition of EU efforts to boost its relative competitiveness in R&D, innovation, and high technology.
Asia's rapid ascent as a major world S&T center—beyond Japan—is driven by developments in China and several other Asian economies (Asia-9). All are seeking to boost access to and the quality of higher education and to develop world-class research and S&T infrastructures. The Asia-9 form a loosely structured supplier zone for China's high-technology manufacturing export industries that increasingly appears to include Japan. Japan, long a preeminent world S&T nation, is holding its own in research and some high-value S&T activities but is losing ground to the Asia-9 in overall high technology manufacturing and trade. India's high gross domestic product (GDP) growth contrasts with a fledgling overall S&T performance.
The EU largely holds its own in the face of these worldwide S&T shifts. Its innovation-focused policy initiatives have been supported by the creation of a shared currency and the elimination of internal trade and migration barriers. Much of the EU's high-technology trade is with other EU members. EU research performance is strong and marked by pronounced EU-supported, intra-EU collaboration. The EU is also focused on boosting the quality and international standing of its universities.
Other countries share this heightened focus on S&T as a means of economic growth. Brazil and South Africa show high S&T growth rates, but from low bases. Among the more developed nations, Russia's S&T establishment continues to struggle in both relative and absolute terms, whereas Israel, Canada, and Switzerland are examples of mature, high-performing S&T establishments.
Multinational companies (MNCs) operating in this changing environment are seeking access to developing markets, whose governments provide incentives. Modern communications and management tools support the development of globally oriented corporations that draw on far-flung, specialized global supplier networks. In turn, host governments are attaching conditions to market access and operations that, along with technology spillovers, produce new and greater indigenous S&T capabilities. Western- and Japan-based MNCs are increasingly joined in world S&T markets by newcomers headquartered in developing nations.