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[MEXICO CITY] Science ministers and representatives of 18 Latin American and Caribbean countries have agreed a 'Plan of Action' to boost innovation and research collaboration in the region.

The second high-level meeting on science and technology (S&T) in Latin America, held in Guanajuato, Mexico last month (24–25 March) looked at the best international strategies on innovation in order to shape a regional innovation plan, which will be made public within a month.

Leopoldo Vilchis Ramírez, head of technological development at Mexico's National Commission on Science and Technology (CONACYT), told SciDev.Net that the meeting "was more about sharing experiences on innovation policies and agreeing to maintain this dialogue than establishing specific regional agreements or funds". 

"We now have a working plan with specific features around innovation policies," he added.

The plan calls on policymakers to identify projects for regional collaboration. It will also initiate an inventory of scientific infrastructure so that a better mechanism for sharing facilities can be set up.

Other topics for discussion in the plan's first year are a diagnosis of the region's innovation systems; encouraging innovation in industry; the advantages of direct financing versus financial incentives to promote innovation; and an exploration of the role of universities and public research centres in promoting innovation.

Participants at the meeting included Spanish government officials, representatives from the Economic Commission for Latin America, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and other regional organisations.

According to Mexico's El Universal newspaper, Flora Montealegre Painter, head of the IDB's S&T division, called for ambitious measures to improve some of region's universities so that the best would be among world's top 100 institutions, and for improvements in countries' access to information and communication technologies. The OECD called for an increase in the region's investment in research and education.

The first meeting, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November last year, set objectives for collaboration. Apart from boosting innovation, these also included human resources development; pilot programs on climate change, health, biotechnology, food security, energy and biodiversity issues; and technological cooperation among the countries.

The other objectives will be discussed at the third meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in March 2012.