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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: August 2009

15 - An evolutionary institutional approach to the economics of bioprospecting



There is a significant strategic interest by ‘Northern’ industries of accessing and using genetic resources (GR) and associated traditional knowledge (TK) from the South. Such repository of bioresources in the South co-evolves through the development of TK and the continuous GR refinement adaptations in natural and managed ecosystems. The North/South debates over ownership, intellectual property rights (IPR) and access to the GR-TK stock were crystallized in the negotiations of the United Nations' Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which came into force in 1993, and now establishes the legal framework for the reciprocal transfer of bioresources between countries (Bhat 1999). In fact, the CBD stands as the only major international negotiated instrument that makes explicit provisions for the special link between TK, biodiversity and local and indigenous communities by granting rights to the latter in order to protect TK (Bodeker 2000). The CBD also regulates bioprospecting activities carried out by industrial (usually Northern) firms and it assigns a formal protocol for sharing the benefits from bioprospecting activities based on the ‘access and benefit sharing’ (ABS) agreement to GR-TK between the parties. In addition, it also calls for a free prior informed consent to be obtained from the holders of GR-TK prior to the bioprospecting activities taking place (Berlin and Berlin 2003). In addition, the CBD effectively asserts the property rights of the bioresources and GR in particular to the source country (c.f. CBD Article 15: Access to Genetic Resources).

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