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[BOGOTÁ] Colombia and India last week agreed moves to encourage cooperation between their scientists and research institutions, with a focus on forestry science and biotechnology.

It is the first formal agreement between the countries since they began diplomatic relations in 1959.

Under the agreement, scientists and graduate students will make exchange visits, and the two countries will support research collaborations on shared problems they identify.

In exchanges, the 'donor' country will pay scientists' travel costs and the host country will cover local expenses.

India's science minister Kapil Sibal and Colombia's minister for foreign affairs, Carolina Barco, signed the agreement on 11 June in Bogotá.

"I think that in both countries we can identify areas where we can collaborate in a very important way — and not just by a bilateral relationship, but through science and technology, tackling some of the issues that are confronting the world," Sibal told SciDev.Net.

Barco said the agreement would help both countries use science to promote social and economic development, and allow Colombian and Indian research centres to build closer links.

Although the agreement is the first to formalise science ties between Colombia and India, scientists from both countries have cooperated in the past.

Sibal noted that the Tayrona National Park in northern Colombia uses a solar energy plant donated by India in 2002. The Indian company Praj Industries is helping to install five plants in southwestern Colombia that will produce fuel from sugar cane and cassava.

 "As a matter of policy we decided that we want to build stronger ties with the Latin American world," said Sibal, who also visited Brazil.

"The best way to build our friendship," he added, "is on a non-ideological basis because science and technology know no territorial boundaries. It is people-to-people contact."

Sibal suggested that shared research on bamboo could feature in future collaborations. By mixing bamboo with other materials, India is developing high-quality building materials.

"Colombia has 'elite' bamboo which is extremely steady, strong and flexible," said Sibal.

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