US boosting bioeconomy to compete with China

The order is essentially a follow-up to the Chips and Science Act signed last month. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Monday to catalyse the country's bioeconomy - another area where it is seen to be slipping behind China.

The order is expected to outline a strategy to boost domestic innovation and production across sectors like medicine, food and biofuels.

"The National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative will ensure we can make in the United States all that we invent in the United States," a White House fact sheet said.

The order is essentially a follow-up to the Chips and Science Act signed last month, which was designed to boost nanotechnology, clean energy, quantum computing, artificial intelligence and, in particular, semiconductor manufacturing.

The objectives, both interlinked, are aimed at competing with, and reducing US reliance on, China - which in May released its own five-year bioeconomy development plan.

In the process, it will create more jobs, the Biden administration says.

The US already has the best biotechnology innovators in the world and leads in the area, a senior administration official told reporters in a call.

"But we risk falling behind as we did in the semiconductor sector and in the advance telecommunication sector, unless we translate biotechnology innovation into economic and societal benefits for all Americans," the senior official said.

"Other countries, including and especially China, are aggressively investing in this sector, which poses risk to US leadership and competitiveness unless we take the kinds of actions... in this executive order."

Another senior administration official said that before the end of the decade, "engineering biology holds the potential to be used in manufacturing industries that account for more than one-third of global output, which is equivalent to almost US$30 trillion (S$42 trillion) in terms of value".

"Living factories, cells and biomass can be used to make almost anything that we use in our day-to-day lives, medicines, fuels and plastic," the senior official said.

The global industry is "on the cusp of a revolution powered by biotechnology", the official added.

Significant actual investment figures will be announced on Wednesday at a bioeconomy and biomanufacturing summit held by the White House.

"We are aiming to expand domestic biomanufacturing capacity so that more of what is invented in America is made in America; biomanufacturing depends on local feed stocks and so we create real impact on communities throughout the country," said one of the officials who briefed the media.

The executive order will also lay out a "robust international strategy for advancing the bioeconomy, working together with our partners and allies to realise the promise of biotechnology", the official said.

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