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[SAN JOSE] Costa Rica could lose a multi-million euro donation from the European Union (EU) to build and equip a new biotechnology centre.

The laboratory — the National Centre for Biotechnology Innovations (CENIBiot) — was formally unveiled more than two years ago, but work has yet to start due to delays in the process of awarding contracts to builders and suppliers.

This has led the EU to warn that if the delays are still continuing by December this year the €11 million (about US$17 million) donation could be withdrawn.

Roelf Smit, first councillor at the European Commission delegation in Costa Rica, said the EU has raised its concerns with the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry and advisors to the president, Oscar Arias.

The controversy surrounds the Ministry of Science and Technology, one of the government entities responsible for the centre. The delays appeared to start when the ministry's agreements surrounding the project were sent for revision to the Controller of the Republic, the regulatory body that monitors public sector finance.

Smit told La Nacion newspaper the future of CENIBiot depends on the success of two open bids: one to build the laboratory and the other to stock the centre with the necessary equipment.

Both bids will remain open until the end of May, but it is feared a delay of any type in the process of awarding contracts could jeopordise the start of scientific research.

The EU has also stipulated that by December it must know which investigations CENIBiot will be working on.

"I believe that the project could yet be realised to a great degree [but] it is evident that if [the bids aren't awarded without delays] it will be impossible," Smit told daily newspaper La Nacion.

It is understood the EU would be unprepared to negotiate an extension to allow the project more time to allocate the donated money.

But the Ministry of Science and Technology insists that by December all of the resources will be assigned.

The aim of CENIBiot is to increase competitiveness in agro-industry, among other sectors, by developing and introducing biotechnology.