Biopiracy and Intellectual Property as the Basis for Biotechnological Development

Gian Carlo Delgado
International Journal of Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 16, No. 2, Winter 2002.

This article provides a geopolitical and geoeconomic analysis of the strategicfoundation of biodiversity, as the basis for the development of technologiesthat are leading the technological revolution in the early 21st century, specificallyin relation to the advance of biotechnology. It explores the mechanismspromoted by Nation States and Multinationals involved in biobusiness inorder to establish global processes of biotic plundering in highly biodiverseareas—biopiracy—as well as the forms of their appropriation—patentinggenetic material and its related knowledge. This dynamic is analyzed at theworld level and discussed with specific reference to Mexico.KEY WORDS: biodiversity; biopiracy; indigenous; knowledge; Plan Puebla Panama;biotechnology; Mexico.
Nowadays, biodiversity has become a strategic, exploitable source ofwealth whose strategic value is determined by the control that can be establishedover it. This is due to the fact that “polluting” capital and biotechnologicalcapital are competing to control this new, unique source of wealthand thereby maintain their hegemony in the world economy. In other words,they are scrambling for the monopoly of as much germ plasm diversity aspossible, and therefore engaged in a frantic search to collect, purchase andsteal the planet’s biological diversity and its related knowledge.To this end, the heads of major multinational corporations (MNCs) andCentral Nation States (CNSs)—representatives of capitalist logic— have devisedtwo extremely complex lines of action. On the one hand, they have setup aWorld Bioprospection System while on the other they need to develop aWorld Intellectual Property System that will bypass national patenting officesand enable them to establish the validity of private property worldwide ina single transaction. This has redefined the world’s system of Public InternationalLaw and created a new specialty known as Gene Law that refersprecisely to the legal guidelines for establishing a (private) right over life.In this context, it is important to note that the link between MNCs andthe State has been and continues to be crucial, especially in imposing imperialistpower over the weaker economies and vulnerable classes in both Centraland Peripheral Nation States (CNSs and PNSs). The belief that MNCs haveemerged as autonomous actors in international economic relations is false(Doremus et al, 1998; Thompson and Hirst, 2000). This claim is based on anerroneous interpretation, since virtually all theMNCsin the world—far frombeing stateless corporations—operate from a national base and a frame ofreference that serves national private interests. These corporations maintainclose links with a state (a case in point being the United States) that regulatesand protects them, and provides them with a range of subsidies. These subsidiesmay come in the form of high public spending, intense war-industry relations,or the deployment of instruments of a diplomatic/military and/or economic/institutional nature, such as theWorld Bank (WB), the InternationalMonetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).Because of the above, it is no coincidence that the World Bank/GlobalEnvironment Facility (GEF) clearly favor the interests of the United Statesand its European allies. Within the Bretton Woods framework, former USTreasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau stated that theWorld Bank was conceivedas part of a world “in which international trade and investment couldbe conducted by businessmen operating under business principles.” Thus it is hardly surprising that the GEF’s web page states that: “: : : the WorldBank, in its role as a GEF implementing agency, should play the primaryrole in ensuring the development and management of investment projects : : :the World Bank draws upon the investment experience of its affiliate, theInternational Finance Corporation, (IFC) : : : to promote investment opportunitiesand to mobilize private sector resources.” In other words the IFCis nothing more than a coordinating agency characterized since the 1980sas the launching pad for projects aimed at privatizing the strategic assets ofperipheral countries.In this regard, one needs only to look at the increasing variety and rateof “bioprospecting” contracts through which the planet’s principal areas ofmegadiversity are subordinated and integrated into corresponding schemesof “bio-plundering.” This is the case in Latin America and the MalayanArchipelago zone, the world’s focal points of biological and cultural diversity.And this is especially noteworthy if we consider that the United Statesthat in the context of intercapitalist competitiveness, it has numerous militarypositions throughout the entire region.3 The link is even more obviousif one analyzes recent attempts to expand hemispheric integration as partof the global projection of US strategic and business interests, specificallythrough the Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) and the Free Trade Area of theAmericas (FTAA). These two projects also address the intellectual propertyissue, following the guidelines so adamantly insisted on by national andinternational entities and institutions such as the US Defense Department,theWorld Trade Organization (WTO), theWorld Intellectual Property Organization(WIPO) and the International Cooperative Biodiversity Group(ICBG). These guidelines consist of standardizing, subordinating and integratingthe world’s main patenting offices into an international system.

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