20 February 2004
In a declaration to be presented shortly to the ministry of science and technology, more than 300 Brazilian researchers state that “countless scientists have been waiting for years to receive equipment. Customs policies produce a lot of bureaucracy just to obtain a few microlitres or a simple reagent”.
The scientists call for new customs procedures that simplify and reduce the cost of bringing equipment and reagents into the country. Import taxes on scientific equipment should be abolished, and systems should be put in place to ensure that all equipment takes no more than 24 hours to pass through customs, they say.
According to Stevens Kastrup Rehen of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and the US-based Scripps Research Institute, delays are so severe that by the time scientists receive reagents the chemicals have often expired. “And when we get our hands on equipment, it’s already outdated,” he says.
“Fees to import and store equipment aren’t cheap and, what’s worse, they are being paid with government money as part of research grants,” adds Rehen, who currently lives in the United States and is a key member of the group that wrote the declaration. “Public money is being used for something that often we can’t even use.”
Thereza Christina Barja-Fidalgo of the pharmacology department of the State University of Rio de Janeiro, recently wrote in the Brazilian Jornal da Ciencia that “in the United States and most European countries, the interval between purchase and delivery of a reagent takes no more than 72 hours. The same reagent in Brazil costs at least twice its price in US dollars and, if you’re lucky, takes a month to be delivered. It’s hard to work and compete like this.”
The declaration also calls for a simple, fast and efficient way for foreign institutions or individuals to donate scientific materials to Brazil. “Sometimes universities can’t even get hold of donated equipment because customs tax are prohibitively high. On other occasions, universities just don’t have enough infrastructure to make use of scientific donations,” adds Barja-Fidalgo. “How can we explain this to a foreigner contributor who wants to help us? It’s tragic.”