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[CAIRO] South American and Arab countries have pledged to increase cooperation in science and technology. The plans were outlined in a declaration made at the first South American-Arab Summit, held on 10-11 May in Brasilia, Brazil.

The main aim of the summit was to emphasise the importance of — and opportunities for — economic, social, technical, scientific and cultural cooperation between the two groups of nations.

The Arab and South American nations said they would create a Scientific and Technological Development Program. This would initially focus scientific cooperation on desertification, management of water resources, irrigated agriculture, biotechnology and genetic engineering, climate forecasting, and cattle herding.

"The scientific issues in the declaration are very good ones and deal with specific areas of common interest, but more planned work is needed," says Hassan Abdel Aal Moawad, professor of microbial biotechnology and former president of Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications, Alexandria, Egypt.

Moawad told SciDev.Net that a network of research centres and a database of scientists in both regions should be created to enhance collaborative research and improve the overall scientific performance in the two regions. 

He pointed out that there are about 12 million people of Arab origin living in South America who could act as a bridge between the two regions in all fields, including science and technology.

Among the scientists from Arab countries now living in South America is Egyptian-born Nagib Nassar, a professor of genetics at the University of Brasilia, who moved to Brazil in 1974.

Nassar told SciDev.Net that there is a lot of potential for scientific cooperation between Arab and South American countries. Brazil, for instance, could contribute to alleviating food shortages in Egypt by offering expertise in agricultural sciences, he said.

Some Arab countries such as Libya began sending undergraduate students to Brazil in the 1980s, creating a large base of technicians with experience of Brazilian science, Nassar added.

The declaration emphasises the "urgent need" to coordinate cooperation programmes in the two region's leading universities and research centres and to promote exchange visits of scientists.

It also states that Arab and South American countries are committed to protecting intellectual property rights, while "recognising that intellectual property protection should not prevent developing countries from access to basic science and technology, and from taking measures to promote national development, particularly concerning public health policies".

It calls for "active and generous" support from the international community for efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other epidemics, in particular those affecting Africa.

The Brasilia summit was convened by Brazil's president Luiz Inacio da Silva and attended by representatives of 22 Arab and 12 South American nations, including 15 heads of state. It was co-chaired by da Silva and by the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Buteflika.

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