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[BUENOS AIRES] Argentina has launched a ten-year plan to increase the value of its agricultural exports through biotechnology.

Some 150 scientists from research institutions and private companies contributed to the plan, which finance minister Roberto Lavagna signed into action on 24 May.

Under the plan — the first of its kind in the country — Argentina will develop genetically modified (GM) crops and livestock, and build stronger links between researchers and the agricultural sector.

Argentina already grows GM soybeans, and has genetically modified cows to produce milk containing human growth hormone. The plan will support research and development in such areas, including the use of GM crops to produce drugs.

Further research will focus on developing biological alternatives to chemical fungicides.

Tax-breaks and loans will be introduced to encourage private companies to conduct biotechnology research. Small and medium-sized companies are expected to gain most from these initiatives.

According to Argentina's Biotechnology Office, the plan will benefit the general public and the environment by creating job opportunities and producing cost-effective, environmentally sound technologies.

The resolution signed by Lavagna states that biotechnological development is essential because of Argentina's "limited resources, and qualitative and quantitative increases in the international demand for exports of primary products".

Moreover, according to Lavagna, "biotechnology might turn out to be the main source of technological solutions to face that challenge".

Daniel Salamone of Bio Sidus, the company that produced Argentina's first cloned cow in 2002, says the plan will integrate scattered initiatives and "encourage other private investments" in biotechnology.

He believes the plan will give Argentinean agricultural productivity a big boost.

Read more about GM crops in SciDev.Net's GM crops dossier.

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