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Testimony to the UN’s Economic and Social Council Regarding Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals

Testimony as Prepared for Delivery

It is an honor to speak on behalf of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, coordinator of the Global Trade and Innovation Policy Alliance, a network of think tanks from six continents allied in the conviction that innovation-based economic development policies and expanded trade and cross-border investment are critical to sustainable growth.

These convictions do not reflect an ideological bias against proactive government. Well-articulated public sector strategies to influence key factor inputs are foundational. From helping enterprises boost productivity and incentivizing R&D, to support for digital transformation and similar initiatives, there’s a role for active government. But we must guard against “innovation mercantilism”—destructive policies that distort global trade and hold back the innovation that can secure access to safe water, clean and affordable energy, and sustainable industrialization.

The opportunities are great: from the potential of AI in improving water treatment efficiency; to quantum computing’s potential for industrial process manufacturing in clean energy technologies; to ICT solutions that could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 15 percent by 2030.

But realizing the potential of these technologies for development will require careful and intentional public policy. Government bias for preferred telecommunications providers must not impede the rollout of 5G technologies needed to secure broad-based benefits from digitalization. Inclusion of advanced ICT products, such as energy-efficient equipment, smart meters, and advanced semiconductor products in the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement would enhance the promise of digitalization for development. AI holds tremendous potential, but the fear of disruptive technologies risks a policy response that could delay its benefits. Legitimate concerns may require new laws and regulations, but they should be targeted at real, not imaginary, harms.

Integrated technological solutions to the energy, food, water, and climate crises will not scale absent the right public policy conditions. We must get those right. Thank you.

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