India is the fastest-growing R&D services export hub globally, the fourth edition of SDG Pulse, the annual statistical publication of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says. The country is also a leading R&D investor among developing countries if China, the world’s second-largest investor in R&D after the United States, is excluded from the list.

SDG Pulse gives an update on developments relating to the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). R&D service export statistics are covered under the ninth SDG, which tracks sustainable industrialisation and higher technologies.

The SDG Pulse data shows that India’s annual average growth of R&D services exports during 2015-2020 was 32.2%, ahead of the second fastest-growing R&D services exporter Ireland, which grew 25.7% during the same five-year period.

In absolute value terms, with $ 5 billion worth of exports in 2020, India’s position was among the top 10, though nowhere close to the U.S., Germany or China, the leaders in global R&D exports. While the U.S. exported $45 billion worth of R&D services in 2020, Germany exported $25 billion worth of services. The SDG Pulse data did not have the Chinese figures for the comparable year though it mentioned the country remains a leading player based on its past years' performance.

According to the report, innovation is increasingly traded internationally and global R&D services exports expanded by an estimated 5% annually, between 2015 and 2020, outpacing the average 2% growth of total trade in services. “In 2020, countries exported about $172 billion worth of R&D services. The top-ten R&D exporters accounted for 77% of the total; the top three held 49%. Seven out of ten leading R&D services exporters also belonged to the top-ten R&D services importers. They were also part of the world-leading recipients of charges for the use of intellectual property. Among developing economies, prominent exporters of R&D services include China, India, Singapore, Brazil, Turkey, and Malaysia,” the report says.

In the case of R&D investments, SDG Pulse points out that despite the growth of world R&D investment in absolute terms, global R&D intensity remained at 1.7% of GDP from 2013 to 2018. “Israel (4.9 %) and the Republic of Korea (4.5 %) were the most prominent R&D investors relative to GDP, followed by Switzerland (3.4 %) and Sweden (3.3 %). The United States of America invested 2.8 % of its GDP in innovation, and China 2.1 %”, it says. In PPP adjusted value terms, India’s investment of $59 billion - though 0.7% of its GDP - was the highest among developing countries excluding China.

The report also quoted WIPO’s Global Innovation Index to say that while Switzerland, Sweden and the United States remained the top performers in innovation in 2020, Singapore, China, and the United Arab Emirates ranked the highest, followed by Malaysia, Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, and India ranked highest among the developing economies, the latter five being described as progressing fast or above expectations based on their income level.

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