Many countries, even if they are industrialized and belong to the OECD, EEC/EU, COMECON or EFTA, may themselves be slow followers of the technology leaders. Their economic position may owe almost everything to the past and very little to any contribution, or major adaptation, to modern applied science: in process engineering, in industrial automation, in electronics or in computerization, for example.
The gap in scientific and technological capabilities is widest in areas of direct relevance to the objectives of sustainable development: new energy sources, biotechnology, genetic engineering, new materials and substitutes, non-polluting and low-waste technologies. Before the disruption of development in the 1980s, levels of expenditure on research and development (R and D) in the USA and certain western European countries amounted to about $200 per capita, while the corresponding figure for most Latin American countries was less than $5 per capita and that of the poorer countries of Africa and Asia less than $1. Developing countries paid approximately $2 billion in 1980 by way of royalties and fees, mainly to industrialized countries.