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The Economics of Information, Studiously Ignored in the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing


The economics of information has been studiously ignored in the ten Conferences of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Nevertheless, an academic literature exists which recognises genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge as natural and artificial information. Its unambiguous prescriptions would widen the scope of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing (ABS) and resolve almost all of the contentious issues identified by Kamau et al. One begins with retroactivity: because biological resources exhibit tangible and intangible aspects, the latter can be conceptualised as a set of natural information where value currently added in a patent is access to a subset not previously accessed. The economics quickly leads to a justification for a biodiversity cartel among countries of origin, wholly analogous to monopoly intellectual property rights. To achieve such a sea change in policymaking, the justification must be accompanied by a narrative that can penetrate the social sphere, much as Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights achieved through the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Several examples of bio-discoveries drawn from a popular medium are analysed in terms of the contentious issues of the Protocol and the distinct ABS that would eventuate under cartelisation. History also offers an analogy. The Parties’ eighteen years of resistance (1993-2011) to applying the economics of information to genetic resources is reminiscent to the twenty-seven years that the British Parliament rebuffed David Ricardo’s economic analysis of the Corn Laws (1815-1842).

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