On Blue BioTrade and Sustainable Development: how to devise this new tool to promote sustainability and equity. Opportunities and challenges. 

195 countries and the bulk of their populations are coastal, tied to the health and productivity of marine ecosystems, which offer valuable assets to generate substantial economic and developmental gains, and play a key role in climate change mitigation. (UNCTAD, 2017) The rapid development of technologies, coupled with fast economic development and demographic growth in developing countries, open a new era in economic exploration and trade in marine-based products and services. There is a need in new policy and governance approaches to building sustainable supply chains. Blue BioTrade is an emerging concept in International Trade that refers to the activities of collection, production, transformation, and commercialization of goods and services derived from marine biodiversity in environmentally, socially and economically sustainable way. (UNCTAD, 2018) If well-designed and implemented "Blue BioTrade” can become a new effective tool to promote sustainability and equity.

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. 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.

Yet, there is a big room for research and the need for new approaches to governance, law, and policies adapted to the marine and coastal context. The status of the world’s oceans as a global commons governed by international law, f.e. UNCLOS, known as "the constitution of the oceans", creates unique challenges for the sustainable exploitation of, and trade in, marine resources. Although 1982 UNCLOS provided a comprehensive framework for international agreements surrounding ocean and marine issues, it is not up to date to provide solutions for societal challenges or address new technological developments that allow economic activities beyond national jurisdictions. Such fundamental issues as private property, resources beyond jurisdiction, and externalities not yet addressed in current marine policies, even though some progress is taking place. The unique socio-political characteristics of marine ecosystems require both the conservation of common-pool resources and the adoption of innovative systems to allocate property rights. ​See our previous articles related to the emerging problem of IPRs and IP for the resources explores beyond national borders the context of negotiating  an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (General Assembly resolution 72/249). Earlier the issues related to weak ocean governance were pointed out by the participants of the 2017 Ocean Conference highlighted, inter alia, that ocean governance must be an integral part of global governance and weaknesses and strengths of UNCLOS must be assessed in the context of new technological challenges, ecological and societal imperatives, growing consumption.   

A number of new legally binding instruments and voluntary commitments seek to mind these gaps appearing in the conservation of natural resources and protecting biodiversity from (over)exploitation: (i) conservation and management of straddling stocks and highly migratory fish stocks (1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement); (ii) land and marine biodiversity, under the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol, that among other targets, seek to ensure that the exploitation of coastal and marine resources does not exceed the ecosystem’s maximum sustainable yield or regenerative capacity; (iii) wetlands, under the Ramsar Convention; (iv) international trade in endangered wildlife, under the CITES and; (v) highly migratory species, under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals; (vi) other issues related to sustainable fisheries and marine harvesting, legal access to marine resources have been addressed in various FAO-backed treaties and regulations seeking to tackle the problem on Illegal Unreported Unregulated fishing, and nonbinding guidelines by the UNCTAD, WTO Law declarations, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), all of which have important implications for building sustainable marine-based value chains.

Therefore, Blue BioTrade is surrounded by complex governance environment and requires an approach that respects the needs and complexities of the marine ecosystems and is responsive to dynamics markets and changing global ecological context. However, the progress towards developing an effective and sustainable Blue BioTrade depends on solving a number of preceding fundamental issues: (i) building essential Blue Biotrade expert community, (ii) developing funding mechanisms; (iii) achieving global consensus on how to manage and explore the marine resources within and beyond the national borders with the respect to social, economic and ecological sustainability and in the context of rapid technology development, and a widening technological gap between the countries, (iv) building a proper global partnership on the marine science and sustainable ocean governance with the full respect of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. The global partnership for Ocean is a crucial element for understanding "the impacts of cumulative stressors and seeking sustainable solutions for maintaining benefits from the Ocean" (Peter Haugan, 2017); (v) accountability regarding the impact of economic activities; (vi) developing proper tools for collecting, sharing, exchanging tools for data. Whereas numerous data sources are available for the terrestrial environment, marine and coastal data come primarily from the official statistics reported by the world’s fisheries. Value chains for marine and coastal products tend to be relatively opaque, due in part to the difficulty and cost of monitoring these value chains, which frequently encompass multiple jurisdictions with different levels of oversight capacity. As a result, goods sourced from a particular origin are often hard to trace. 


In order to improve governance in short and feasible term, Blue BioTrade can build on international mandates and agreements, such as SDG 14, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, UNCTAD’s Nairobi Maafikiano, and other UN agreements and declarations. Informed by more than 20 years of experience in developing sustainable value chains and sectors, the BioTrade concept has been successfully applied to many biodiversity-based sectors, both through government policies and private initiatives. The emerging field of Blue BioTrade will catalyze the sustainable and equitable use and protection of marine and coastal biodiversity and oceans as a whole. It assumes the same 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.

In its recent Report on Blue BioTrafe, the UNCTAD suggested some policy options and governance approaches that would promote sustainable and equitable economic sectors and value chains that rely on marine and coastal resources in four industries that should be regarded as priorities for Blue BioTrade: (i) fisheries and aquaculture; (ii) marine-based pharmaceuticals and cosmetics; (iii) marine and coastal tourism, and (iv) carbon capture and sequestration.

If well-devised and well-designed, 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.

By Katsiaryna Serada



SDWatch.org is an independent, non-profit and student-led project initiated and managed by students and alumni of the LL.M in Sustainable Development at the University of Milan. It is supported by the Department of Italian and Supranational Public Law of the University.