Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 May 2006
This paper aims to elucidate the important economic and political aspects of an extremely complex policy issue involving biological prospecting (bioprospecting) in Antarctica. In addressing this rapidly growing global industry, which searches for commercially valuable biological and genetic resources in a world of biological diversity, it becomes obvious that a critical interface exists between Antarctica and the intertwined bioprospecting policies brought forth during recent decades by two treaties, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The analytical framework of the paper builds upon the economic concept of public goods within a political framework of international treaties and law. The concept of a national public good, associated with the sovereignty of a state (nation) over its biological and genetic resources, is the basis of such policy under the Biological Diversity Treaty. In practice, this jurisdiction applies both to the land area of a state and to the exclusive economic zone of a coastal state. The Law of the Sea Treaty, on the other hand, provides both a national public good connotation to exclusive economic zones while creating a global public good connotation for deep seabed mineral resources, with a related potential application to bioprospecting in the deep seabed. While the Antarctic Treaty System possesses several institutions that could be adapted to a bioprospecting policy regime, no such regime has been established up to the present. The paper concludes with a consideration of the critical question: is bioprospecting in Antarctica a national or global public good? While logic would appear to lead one toward the ‘global’ answer, multinational economic and political realities in today's world suggest that either a national public good approach, or a largely unregulated open access approach, is more likely to prevail.