UNCTAD today launched the BIOTRADE Initiative with the aim of promoting international markets for biological resources, while stimulating biodiversity conservation. The launching was announced in Buenos Aires (Argentina) at the Ministerial Segment (13-14 November) of the Third Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (4-15 November).
Why BIOTRADE is needed
A critical issue facing the Convention on Biological Diversity is how to translate the uncertain future benefits of biodiversity conservation into more immediate conservation incentives. The difficulty is three-fold:
- Conservation of biodiversity is endangered: funds available for a global environmental issue such as biodiversity conservation are shrinking;
- Deriving benefits: "green gold" at reach? While many countries are conscious of the real and potential value of biological resource-based products from biotechnology, biodiversity-rich developing countries do not have sufficient information about the potential benefits they may derive from a sustainable use of their biological resources, or what many rightly consider as a promising "green gold" market. In most cases, developing countries lack the technical and entrepreneurial resources to exploit the full potential of their biological resources. Such benefits could play a crucial role in promoting, in turn, biodiversity conservation.
- Less benefits and less conservation with an imperfect market: The conditions necessary for an efficient and equitable biochemical prospecting market do not presently exist: Property rights to biological resources are not well defined or easily protected; information about these resources is often insufficient to determine their current or potential future value; transaction costs are quite high and risk spreading mechanisms are not well developed.
Scope and content
The BIOTRADE Initiative seeks to respond to those dilemmas in an integrated manner: stimulating public and private investment in biological resource-based products and services while enhancing the capability of developing countries to compete in these emerging markets and improving the functioning of the world market for biological resources.
The BIOTRADE Initiative consists of economic and market research, training and capacity-building, development of alternative contractual arrangements, evaluation of strategies for biological resource conservation and development, global information dissemination and networking, and private sector collaboration. During a three-year start-up phase (1996-1999), initial research on market conditions and development options will be completed, alternative contractual guidelines will be developed, and the first phase of training and capacity-building programs will be conducted in developing countries. UNCTAD anticipates annual funding requirements of approximately US$1.25 million for the start-up phase. So far, financial support has been provided by the Governments of Spain and the Netherlands.
This initiative is a collaborative effort with the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, governments, inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, the academic community (notably the University of Charleston, South Carolina, United States), the private sector and local communities.
The BIOTRADE Initiative is "one of the best illustrations of what we intend to achieve under what we may call an international consensus on environment for development", Mr. Juan A. de Castro, UNCTAD Coordinator on Biodiversity, stated at the Buenos Aires Conference, on behalf of the Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Mr. Rubens Ricupero. It seeks to mutually reinforce trade, environment and development objectives through a pragmatic approach. In his remarks on behalf of UNCTAD, Mr. de Castro stressed the important role the private sector can play in achieving the objectives of the Biodiversity Convention. Both public and private investment in biological resource-based products and services needed to be stimulated. It was necessary to ensure that new markets and enterprises related to biological resources develop in a way that would promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable development.