UNCTAD report on Technology and Innovation

News: India was the biggest ‘overperformer’ in frontier technologies than the country’s per capita Gross Domestic Products (GDP) would suggest, according to a recent country-readiness index of the Technology And Innovation Report 2021. The report was released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).


  • The report examines the likelihood of frontier technologies widening existing inequalities and creating new ones. It also addresses the national and international policies, instruments and institutional reforms that are needed to create a more equal world of opportunity for all, leaving no one behind.
  • The report shows that frontier technologies already represent a USD 350 billion market, which could grow to USD 3.2 trillion by 2025.
  • It calls for strengthened international cooperation to build innovation capacities in developing countries, facilitate technology transfer.
  • Envisages increase women’s participation in digital sectors, conduct technological assessments and promote an inclusive debate on the impact of frontier technologies on sustainable development.
  • Technological change affects inequalities through its impact on jobs, wages and profits in following ways:
  • Automation taking jobs
  • Job displacement can also be accompanied by job polarization, which refers to an expansion in high- and low-wage jobs combined with a contraction in middle-wage jobs.
  • Frontier technologies are being used to provide services via digital platforms that have spurred the creation of a ‘gig economy’.
  • India’s actual index ranking is 43, while the estimated one based on per capita income is 108.
  • This meant that India overperformed other countries by 65 ranking positions. India was followed by the Philippines, which overperformed by 57 ranking positions. India performed well in research and development.
  • This is reflected in its abundant supplies of qualified and highly skilled human resources available at a comparatively low cost. However countries such as the United States, Switzerland and the United Kingdom were “best prepared” for frontier technologies.

Challenges for Developing Countries:

  • Low-income- and lower-middle-income countries have expanding and younger populations which will increase the supply of labour and depress wages, reducing the incentives for automation.
  • Low-income countries have fewer skilled people and depend to a large extent on agriculture which tends to be slower to take advantage of new technologies.
  • Developing countries typically innovate by emulating industrialized countries, diversifying their economies, and absorbing and adapting new technologies for local use, but this process is slowest in the poorest countries.
  • Most developing countries have increased their R&D expenditures, but these are still relatively low. There is very little private funding of industrial technologies for productive applications.
  • Stringent intellectual property protection will restrict the use of frontier technologies that could be valuable in SDGs related areas such as agriculture, health and energy.

Frontier Technologies

  • Frontier technologies are defined as potentially disruptive technologies that can address large-scale challenges or opportunities.
  • They include artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things, big data, blockchain, 5G, 3D printing, robotics, drones, gene editing, nanotechnology and solar photovoltaic.