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A top level meeting between research ministers from the 15 member states of the European Union and their counterparts in 78 countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions is being held in Cape Town, South Africa, later this month.

The meeting — the first of its kind — will address the general theme of science, technology and innovation, particularly in the context of the demands of sustainable development.

It is intended to prepare a unified position within the ACP Group of States, a formal negotiating body based in Brussels, on co-operation with the EU, that will provide a framework for future scientific and technical collaboration.

According to South African science minister Ben Ngubane, it is also hoped that the forum will provide “a significant input” into the deliberations and discussions during the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which opens in Johannesburg on 24 August.

Specific cross-cutting themes to be discussed during the ACP-EU forum, which takes place from 26 to 31 July, include the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs), human capital development and capacity building, HIV/AIDS, mainstreaming gender and poverty eradication.

Each of these issues will be addressed during an initial two-day technical meeting by working groups looking at the broad topics of social development (primarily health and education), the environment, globalisation, and science and technology development.

Those attending the technical meeting will be top officials from both the EU and member states of the ACP regions. It will be followed by a two-day ministerial forum, to be opened by South Africa’s deputy president, Jacob Zuma.

According to a statement issued last week by South Africa’s Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, the forum is expected “to contribute significantly to the reconfiguration of the agenda for co-operation between the North and South”.

Such a reconfiguration is expected to take into account recent decisions by the EU to open its Sixth Framework Programme, the union’s multi-year international programme of joint research projects, to participation from developing countries. (See Europe seeks Third World research partners, July 3).

In addition, the outcome of the forum, says the ministry, is likely to be particularly significant in the context of current discussions about the role of science, technology and innovation proposed in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). This is the social and economic development programme drawn up by a number of leading African states that was endorsed at last month’s summit meeting in Canada.

The whole event will be chaired by Ngubane, who has expressed optimism that the forum will provide the impetus for “a new ACP-EU partnership”. According to his ministry, the forum “represents an important milestone in South Africa’s participation [in the ACP] since becoming a member of the group in 1997”.

Earlier this year, Ngubane said the main purpose of the forum was to charter a “shared vision” for the next 20 years “that emphasises the importance of science and technology as critical platforms for sustainable development.”

He added that this vision would also provide for “the adoption of concrete plans of action for scientific and technological cooperation under the Sixth Framework Programme, and capacity building through the Ninth European Development Fund”.

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