Just a few weeks ago in Havana, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos and Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or FARC, Timoleon Jimenez, made history when they signed a peace agreement brokered by Cuba’s President Raul Castro.
After decades of the fight against FARC dominating Colombia’s politics, its leaders now have an unprecedented opportunity to turn their attention to much-needed investment in innovation, science and technology. Just as President George H. W. Bush called for a peace dividend in the United States following the end of the Cold War, it is now time for Colombia to enjoy the fruits of domestic investment, particularly in areas that will boost the nation’s global competitiveness.
Compared to nations of similar size, Colombia trails far behind when it comes to research and development. Brazil, Argentina and even Costa Rica invest significantly higher amounts. What’s more, in terms of patent applications, Colombia applied for only 86 patents at the World Intellectual Property Organization in 2015. That is down almost 15 percent from 2014 and far below comparable competitors, such as Chile, Brazil, Israel and South Korea. In a world where innovation-driven growth is becoming increasingly important to global competition, Colombia can’t afford to continue to deprive its researchers and scientific leaders of the resources they need to propel the domestic economy.
At the same time, Colombia’s success won’t be determined solely by increased investment. The nation’s leaders have a responsibility to create an atmosphere that encourages risk-taking, entrepreneurship and exploration of new fields. However, all-too-often, the Colombian government has taken steps that disincentivize innovation and create unnecessary barriers to scientific discovery. For example, just a few weeks ago, Colombia’s Minister of Health published a Declaration of Public Interest (DPI) resolution aimed at a Novartis product, Glivec (imatinib), an innovative and proven cancer medicine. The DPI would arbitrarily set the price for Glivec at a level that does not appropriately value innovation and would undermine the manufacturers, workers and patients that rely on a predictable and transparent pricing system. This DPI stands as only a single example of an effort by the Colombian government that could have negative and unintended effects on patient care and economic growth.
Today, Colombia stands on the brink of unprecedented potential. While the peace accord is only freshly signed, the nation’s leaders now have the extraordinary opportunity to turn from a war footing to domestic policies that invest in Colombia’s future, improve the health of its citizenry and expand the innovation economy.
Mark Grayson Mark Grayson is a former deputy vice president of public affairs at PhRMA focusing on intellectual property, trade and international issues.