Blue Biotrade: Harnessing Marine Trade to Support Ecological Sustainability and Economic Equity

UNCTAD defines BioTrade as “the activities of collection/production, transformation and commercialization of goods and services derived from native biodiversity under criteria of environmental, social and economic sustainability.

In this context, the emerging concept of “Blue BioTrade” — focused on marine-based products and services—presents an exciting new tool to promote sustainability and equity. Blue BioTrade reflects the same seven criteria that define BioTrade: conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of biodiversity, equitable benefit sharing, socioeconomic sustainability, legal compliance, respect for stakeholders’ rights, and clearly defined tenure and access to resources.

Like BioTrade overall, Blue BioTrade can build on international mandates and agreements, such as Sustainable Development Goal 14, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, UNCTAD’s Nairobi Maafikiano, and other United Nations agreements and declarations.

The following report describes how the application of the Blue BioTrade concept can promote sustainable and equitable economic sectors and value chains that rely on marine and coastal resources.

A proposal for implementing a Blue BioTrade approach is described in Annex I. Blue BioTrade principles and criteria can be applied without the force of law through voluntary verification and certification systems that enable firms to obtain a price premium for embracing equity and sustainability.

Once an international consensus on the principles and criteria for Blue BioTrade has been established, and certification systems are in place (e.g. under the existing framework of the Union for Ethical BioTrade), firms will be able to publicly demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and equity. This represents the first exchange in an ongoing dialogue on Blue BioTrade between UNCTAD, CAF: development bank of Latin America, and their regional and national partners throughout the world.

Expanding Blue BioTrade will require clear guidelines expressly tailored to the marine and coastal environment, as both the governance arrangements and ecological characteristics of oceans very different from land-based economic sectors.

Four industries should be regarded as priorities for Blue BioTrade:

  1. Fisheries and aquaculture

  2. Marine-based pharmaceuticals and cosmetics

  3. Marine and coastal tourism

  4. Carbon capture and sequestration

Leveraging Blue BioTrade principles can enhance both the economic value of natural capital, which supports food production, tourism, and a range of other economic activities, as well as the noneconomic benefits of ecosystem services, including water-quality maintenance, carbon sequestration, shoreline stabilization and disaster mitigation, scenic beauty, and the cultural worth of traditional livelihoods. Blue BioTrade focuses on the interconnected values and benefits of ecologically healthy, well-managed marine and coastal habitats to achieve sustainability and enhance economic efficiency.

Blue BioTrade principles should be aligned with the policies of coastal nations within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and its implementing agreements, especially in areas that are beyond any national jurisdiction. Blue BioTrade is also relevant to the first and second objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and it can help ensure that the exploitation of coastal and marine resources does not exceed the ecosystem’s maximum sustainable yield or regenerative capacity.

Blue BioTrade can also promote the equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of marine biodiversity by helping to establish clear rights of access, use, and ownership over marine and coastal resources and by leveraging traditional ecological management knowledge and benefit-sharing systems. As an expanding array of organizations, businesses, and communities adopt Blue BioTrade principles for ensuring ecological sustainability, economic efficiency, and social equity, the immense value of the world’s oceans will continue to grow.