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Cablegate: Tunis Fy 2008 Biotechnology Outreach Proposal

VZCZCXYZ0002
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTU #0120/01 0381634
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 071634Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4401
INFO RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT PRIORITY 8498
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 7616

UNCLAS TUNIS 000120

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EB/TPP/ABT/BTT (TOM LERSTEN AND MATT KOCH), NEA/PPD (PEN
AGNEW, ROBIN SMITH) AND NEA/MAG (MAYA HARRIS)
RABAT FOR FAS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAGR ECON ETRD TBIO KPAO TS
SUBJECT: TUNIS FY 2008 BIOTECHNOLOGY OUTREACH PROPOSAL

Refs: A) 07 STATE 160639

B) 07 TUNIS

1. Summary: Embassy Tunis is pleased to submit a proposal to
further the advancement of agricultural biotechnology (agbiotech)
research and awareness in Tunisia. The GOT is currently drafting
regulations on biotechnology and we would like them to be
trade-friendly. Given that the European Union is Tunisia's largest
trade partner, representing nearly 80 percent of Tunisia's total
trade, exposure to US experts and researchers is critical to
encouraging support for and research in the field of agricultural
biotechnology. The proposed visit of three US biotechnology
researchers builds on the successful 2007 EEB-sponsored visit of Dr.
Foster Agblevor and has the potential to lead to increased
US-Tunisian research collaboration in agricultural biotechnology.
End Summary.

2. Embassy Tunis proposes supporting the visit of three US
researchers to an international symposium on biotechnology scheduled
to take place May 4-8, 2008 at the Center for Biotechnology of Sfax
(CBS)(a virtual visit of the center is available at
http://www.cbs.rnrt.tn). This event will coincide with the 25th
anniversary of the CBS and will bring prominent biotech researchers
from several countries, including France, to interact with their
Tunisian counterparts. The overarching goal is to promote the use
of biotechnologies in Tunisia. The program (available at
http://isb2008.cbstunisia.com) features a series of lectures and
workshops dealing with three different themes: (1) Biotechnology for
human health; (2) microbial and environmental biotech; and (3)
agricultural, food and marine biotechnology.

3. USDA/FAS has carried out several activities in Tunisia aimed at
building close relationships with key players and on advocating a
trade-friendly stance with regard to GMOs. We have been successful
so far, as US-origin shipments of corn and soybean meal, widely
believed to contain various proportions of bio-engineered material,
continue to enjoy unfettered access to the market. However,
Tunisia's proximity to Europe, notoriously unfriendly towards
biotech products, and its proclivity to a European way of thinking
in general, suggest that we must continue to be vigilant in this
arena. Whereas the so-called non-GMO biotechnologies are widely
accepted, GMOs are controversial.

4. In support of Embassy Tunis' joint efforts, CBS would like to
invite the following US researchers to present the indicated topics
at the symposium:

A. Berkowitz Gerald A., University of Connecticut, "Mechanisms
mediating Ca2+ involvement in pathogen perception, programmed cell
death and plant innate immunity"

B. Federici Brian A., University of California,
"Basic Biology and Genetic Engineering of Bacillus thuringiensis"

C. Potts Malcolm, Virginia Tech University and Qatar University
"Roof Biofilm: A Unique Biotechnological Resource"

We would also like to program these individuals with an appropriate
group of university students during one of the conference days.

5. Fostering interactions between US and Tunisian scientists lays
the groundwork for a meaningful dialogue on the benefits stemming
from the wide embrace of agricultural biotechnology. Tunisian
researchers who have participated in several USDA/FAS-supported
joint US-Tunisia agricultural research projects tend to be biotech
proponents. Gaining allies among researchers could prove to be
useful in fulfilling USG biotech strategy as scientists play a key
role in the policymaking on this issue in Tunisia. The head of CBS,
for instance, is a key member of the National Biosafety Committee,
an institution in charge of shaping the future of biotech in this
country.

6. Dr. Foster Agblevor from Virginia Tech University recently
visited CBS as part of Embassy Tunis' EEB-sponsored agbiotech
outreach. Dr. Agblevor concluded that the institution is too
reliant on collaborative research with French institutions focusing
on basic research with few, if any, prospects of tangible outcomes
to farmers and other potential end-users. He also noted the
existence of a lot of skepticism about the merits of agricultural
biotechnologies among the CBS researchers. Dr. Agblevor concluded,
and the Embassy concurs, that establishing more linkages with US
universities will be vital to winning over the skeptics and
re-orienting the CBS work towards practical applications. The
active involvement of prominent US researchers at this high-profile
event, alongside their French counterparts, will be an excellent
milestone to this end.
7. PROGRAM COST

- Round-trip Airfare-(est.)
$1,500 X 2 (for east coast speakers) + $2,500 (for west coast
speaker) = $5,500

- Honorarium--$200/program X 1 day = $200/person = $600

- Per Diem (lodging and M&IE): covered by CBS

Total = $6,161

8. POST RESPONSIBLE OFFICER AND CONTACT INFORMATION

Victoria Taylor
Economic Officer
taylorvj@state.gov
(office)+216-71-107-431
(cell)+216-20-315-824

Abdelkarim Sma
Office of Agricultural Affaire
Smaa@state.gov
(office) +216-71-107486
(cell)+216-98-336-930
GODEC

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