Latin America falling behind in tech: U.N. regional head

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Latin America is falling behind other parts of the world in developing new technology, with a lack of urgency from its governments holding it back, the head of the region’s economic arm for the United Nations said.

Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), gestures during the World Congress of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in Mexico City, Mexico, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Most countries had failed to jump on the wagon of fast-moving technological progress in areas such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said in an interview late Thursday.

“The region’s governments lack a sense of urgency in the sense that technology is a train that has left the station and this region is far behind,” said Barcena for the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit at the ECLAC headquarters in Santiago.

“A leap is needed so that you don’t just end up exporting raw materials as they are, but with added value.”

There were exceptions, such as digital innovation in Uruguay and renewable energy investment in Chile and Mexico, which are growing fast and likely to spread to other parts of the region, she said.

But Latin America’s economy overall remains highly dependent on natural resources exports, which make it vulnerable to downturns in the commodities cycle.

Recent years have seen low economic growth or contractions for the region as a whole, dragged down by recession in Brazil and economic woes in Argentina and Venezuela in particular.

However, Barcena said she was optimistic of more rapid economic expansion in 2018 - around 2 percent for the region as a whole, up from 1.1 percent this year - as commodities prices improved and global growth picked up.

“Almost all the (Latin American) economies are entering a rhythm of positive growth,” she said, adding that the larger economies of Brazil, Mexico and Argentina were likely to be leading the improvement.

“Fiscal policy as well as monetary policy should generate better conditions to incentivize investment.”

Reporting by Rosalba O’Brien and Antonio de la Jara; Editing by Shri Navaratnam