Address by HE Ranil Wickremesinghe - President of Sri Lanka at the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the G77 & China on Current Development Challenges: The Role of Science, Technology and Innovation -on 15 September 2023 in Havana, Cuba

Address by HE Ranil Wickremesinghe – President of Sri Lanka at the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the G77 & China on Current Development Challenges: The Role of Science, Technology and Innovation -on 15 September 2023 in Havana, Cuba

Your Excellency President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez,


Cuba for many decades has stood as a champion for the concerns and aspirations of developing nations within various multilateral fora. In that spirit, President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez has convened this timely Summit of the Leaders of the G77 and China. I join with the other delegates in congratulating him.

Let me also join the previous speakers who have extended their deepest condolences to the Government and people of the Kingdom of Morocco and of the State of Libya for the recent natural disasters and extensive loss of lives.

This year, Cuba assumes the Presidency of the G77 at a crucial time when  the global South is impacted by multiple and interlocking challenges related to pandemics, climate change, food, fertilizer and energy crises which paved the way for setbacks to the SDGs and a deepening global debt crisis.

In the 15th century, Asia was the most technologically developed region.  Europe had advanced only in a few sectors including Gunpowder, Canon, and Ocean-going ships. These three technologies helped Europe to conquer the rest of the world. The conquest of Asia and Africa set back the development of Science and Technology in our countries creating the technological divide of today. Another quantum leap in technology and innovation is taking place in the 21st Century at a geometrical progression further widening the existing technological divide leading to the marginalisation of the South.

There are two key factors essential for the developing nations to come out of these crises. The first, is Digitalization and the adoption of New Technologies. eg. Big Data, IoT, AI, Blockchain, Biotechnology, and Genome Sequencing. The second is, ensuring human resources skilled in the multifaceted fields of Science and Technology. An educated manpower well equipped with knowledge and technological know-how is necessary to keep the smooth flow of the needed transformations. These two factors single-handedly will lubricate the development and catching up process in developing nations.

Let me outline the measures my government is taking. Our continuing economic restructuring process after the financial crisis 2022, provides us with a chance to harness the potential of science, technology, and innovation to our future trajectory of sustainable development and  high growth.

We are currently evaluating the performance of all our existing Science and Technology Research  Institutes, some of which are under-performing. To promote the utilising of New Technologies for Sri Lanka’s growth, the Government will establish a Technology and Innovation Council as well as a Digital Transformation Agency. Our universities currently do not have the capacity to create the requisite number of technology specialists. Therefore, we will establish four new Universities focusing on the new technologies. One of these is the outcome of the technological cooperation between India and Sri Lanka. The fifth will be establishing the International Climate Change University.

The digital divide presents significant challenges to development in the Global South. These include,

  • limited access to costly technology,
  • inadequate digital skills and infrastructure
  • cultural and institutional barriers, and
  • financing constraints

Global trade barriers further compound these issues. To overcome these challenges, the G77 & China must establish effective mechanisms for cooperation. Otherwise our endeavours will be limited to words.We must immediately reinvigorate the Consortium of Science & Technology & Innovation for the South (COSTIS). This will be the test of our commitment. In addition, a revised Programme of Action with many of the proposed new measures is required. These measures should include,

  • Collectively creating technological platforms modeled on the European Union’s Technology & Innovation Platforms in the following fields: Digitalization, Health and Medication, AI and Renewable Energy including Green Hydrogen.
  • Interested G77 countries must make a commitment to earmark 1% of their GDP for R&D. This has to be achieved over a decade, and
  • we must foster collaboration between the governments and the private sectors.

The brain drain from the South to the North and the resulting loss of educated manpower, is another threat to the development of Science, Technology and Innovation of the South.  China, India Japan and South Korea have developed Science, Technology and Innovation by nurturing their manpower. Therefore, we must ask for compensation from the North for the loss of our manpower.

Strengthening South-South cooperation  can also play a significant role in addressing the critical issues of expanding our human resources.  Sri Lanka urges the Group of 77 and China to work together to introduce a scheme similar to the Colombo Plan to increase collaboration, exchange best practices, and push policies that harness the transformational potential of science, technology, and innovation.

Sri Lanka is committed to supporting the new Havana Declaration. We must ensure that the collective voice of G77 and China is heard in the international fora.

In conclusion, let me once again thank President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez and the Government of Cuba for your generous hospitality and excellent arrangements.

Thank you.

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