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Egypt and Kazakhstan have agreed on the creation of a joint council for science and technology research.

Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev approved the plans on his visit to Egypt this week (11–13 March).

The proposed council will promote cooperation between the countries in a number of research fields including pharmaceuticals, agriculture, energy, food science, information technology, biotechnology and industrial research.

It will also encourage knowledge transfer and the exchange of scientists, as well as establishing cooperative research and development projects and organising joint scientific meetings.

Fostering science cooperation with Egypt is the first step by Kazakhstan towards implementing its development strategy for the next decade, announced by Nazarbayev during his 28 February state of the union address.

Under the plan, Kazakhstan's science and education budget would constitute five per cent of its gross domestic product by 2012 — higher than the European Union's science and development target of three per cent of GDP by 2010.

To help establish a science-based sustainable economy, five national laboratories with links to business will be established in the country for promoting public-private partnerships.

Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a biotechnologist at Cairo's National Research Centre, welcomed the news. "The newly approved council is a good practical step towards implementing both Egypt's and Kazakhstan's science and technology national plans," he told SciDev.Net (see Egypt gets serious about science with 12-year strategy).

Abdelhamid said it could represent a model for promoting research and development in the Middle East and Central Asia. He called upon developing countries to form similar science and technology alliances.

Kazakhstan is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources. It has an abundance of fossil fuels and minerals, including a third of the world's uranium reserves.

Yet it has small scientific workforce of only 13,200 scientists and engineers ― about 870 scientists per million of the population. Developed nations have about 3,200 scientists per million of the population.