International law of the sea/seed: Public domain versus private commodity

Carol B. Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) prohibits privatization or territorial control over the deep seas. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recognizes sovereign rights over biodiversity within national territories, but the World Trade Organization (WTO) permits privatization of microorganisms and plans to incorporate seeds and plants. Yet both the high seas and biodiversity (gene pool) could be viewed as the common heritage of mankind - necessary for human life, to be shared by all. Why are seeds legally treated so differently from the seabed, the former to be declared private property (WTO), the other remaining available to all (UNCLOS)? This study compares political contestations over jurisdiction for access and use, for benefit sharing and governance of the sea versus the seed. The conclusion discusses lessons from UNCLOS in delimitation of private property of global resources for resolving the current impasse over privatization of the gene pool between the CBD and WTO.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)841-866
Number of pages26
JournalNatural Resources Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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