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The Latin American trade pact Mercosur and the European Union have agreed to develop a programme to fund agricultural biotechnology projects in Latin America.

BIOTECSUR was unveiled last week (19 December) at Argentina's Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation. 

The European Union (EU) has pledged €6 million (around US$8.7 million) to the programme, with Mercosur members Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay investing €1.3 million (around US$1.9 million). Argentina will coordinate the programme, in which Paraguay will also participate.

The initiative will fund four regional projects in four areas of interest: forestry, oilseeds, bovine (cow) and avian (bird).

"We are going to create a regional platform for biotechnology, which gathers policy, science and the private sector", says Igueda Menvielle, director of BIOTECSUR and national director of international relationships at the Argentinean Ministry of Science.

Menvielle said the programme focuses on agricultural biotechnology because this sector has a high impact on innovation and development, which in turn will have a positive impact on the region's economy.

Representatives from the Mercosur nations and the EU will attend seminars between February and April 2008 to identify the region's main biotechnology demands. A call for project proposals will be launched in May and remain open until the end of July.

A jury of experts and policymakers will select the four final projects, to be presented to the EU in September. Each project will receive €1 million (US$1.4 million) and start in November 2008, running for about two and a half years.

Menvielle says that Brazil is organising a similar regional programme on information and communication technologies.