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[NEW DELHI] India is building closer science ties with Canada, Israel and Vietnam in a range of fields spanning nanotechnology, alternative fuels, agriculture and animal husbandry, according to announcements made in May.

The agreement with Canada is intended to boost joint research and help take laboratory research to the market place.

The two countries will focus on earth sciences and disaster mitigation; alternative fuels and technologies for mitigating climate change; information and communications technology; nanotechnology; and biotechnology, health research and medical devices.

It will be Canada's first 'umbrella agreement' on science with any country for 25 years, Canada's high commissioner Lucie Edwards told reporters last week. She said the agreement would cover research, design, production and innovation, and would involve academia and industry working closely together.

Edwards said the recent Canadian International Policy Statement also "paid significant attention to India as well as to science and technology, and suggested key initiatives to support partnerships in this sector with key markets, like India".

The agreement was initiated in January, when Canadian prime minister Paul Martin visited India. It is expected to be formalised during a technology summit in September hosted by India's Department of Science and Technology and the Confederation of India Industries.

India and Canada have collaborated in various sectors of science for the past 50 years without a formal agreement. The individual collaborations included Canadian help in building nuclear reactors for India's atomic power plants, and in agriculture and medicine.

Scientific relations between the two countries fluctuated during those 50 years and reached their lowest point after India tested its first nuclear bomb at Pokhran in May 1974. This year's decision to sign a formal agreement signifies "a definite upswing in the two countries' relations," a senior official at India's Department of Science and Technology told SciDev.Net.

In a separate agreement signed on 30 May, India and Israel pledged to set up a fund to encourage investment and joint ventures with industry.

According to the Press Trust of India, there are five priority areas for enhanced collaboration: nanotechnology, biotechnology, water management, alternative energy, and space and aeronautics. India and Israel will each start by contributing US$1 milllion to provide risk-free grants to entrepreneurs in the two countries. 

In May, India also agreed to increase scientific cooperation with Vietnam, focusing on agricultural biotechnology, especially for farming techniques in areas facing drought and developing hybrid rice.

Valingaman Ramamurthy, secretary of India's Department of Science and Technology told SciDev.Net that India would also help Vietnam increase its dwindling goat population by crossing them with Indian goat species in special breeding programmes.