Since the 1990s, a global wave of market liberalization has produced an interconnected world economy, accompanied by unprecedented levels of activity and growth and by ongoing structural changes. Governments in many parts of the developing world, viewing science and technology as integral to economic growth and development, have set out to build more knowledge-intensive economies. They have taken steps to open their markets to trade and foreign investment, develop their S&T infrastructures, stimulate industrial R&D, expand their higher education systems, and build indigenous R&D capabilities. Over time, global S&T capabilities have grown, nowhere more so than in Asia.
As more effective communication and management tools have been developed, multinational corporations (MNCs) seeking to access these new markets have evolved global corporate structures that draw on far-flung, specialized, global supplier networks. In turn, host governments have often attached conditions to market access that, along with technology spillovers, have aided in the development of indigenous S&T capabilities. Western- and Japan-based MNCs are increasingly joined in world S&T markets by newcomers headquartered in developing nations.
In most broad aspects of S&T activities, the United States continues to maintain a position of leadership. But it has experienced a gradual erosion of its position in many specific areas. Two contributing developments to this erosion are the rapid increase in a broad range of Asian S&T capabilities outside of Japan and the effects 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 is chiefly driven by developments in China, which on most indicators continues to show long-term growth that would normally be regarded as unsustainable. But several other Asian economies (the Asia-8) have also played a role. All are intent on boosting quality of, and access to, higher education and developing world-class research and S&T infrastructures. The Asia-8 functions like a loosely structured supplier zone for China's high-technology manufacturing export industries. This supplier zone increasingly appears to include Japan. Japan, a preeminent S&T nation, is continuing to lose ground relative to China and the Asia-8 in high-technology manufacturing and trade. India's high gross domestic product (GDP) growth continues to contrast with a fledgling overall S&T performance.
The EU is seeking to hold 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.