A few studies have explored institutional interactions in hierarchical or nested regimes in which certain rules have explicit precedence over others, but the theoretical implications are limited because international agreements are rarely hierarchical.6 The prevailing scholarship on regimes has also taken a functional approach to analyzing cooperation and has not given close attention to how the legal and intellectual framing of issues affects the boundaries of regimes.7 Lack of systematic attention to boundaries and to the interactions among institutions leaves a large hole in the existing body of theory
The Legalization of Property Rights
The early 1990s represented a watershed in the development of the PGR regime complex – the final break from the primacy of common heritage. *** Yet the CBD was a broad agreement that had been crafted through a process dominated by relatively weak environment ministries; likewise, the FAO was dominated by agriculture ministries who also had limited influence. Although abundant in symbolism, the CBD and FAO had only minimal impact on the rules and practices that actually affected the flow of genetic resources.
The defining characteristic of a regime complex is the existence of multiple, overlapping elemental regimes. Given the availability of multiple fora for developing or elaborating international rules, we expected actors would attempt to select the forum that best suited their interests. The PGR case is consistent with this expectation.
Regime Development Through Implementation
In the traditional model of regime development, parties that seek a change in regime rules press their cause through formal negotiations leading to new rules; the implementation process follows thereafter in a ‘‘top down’’ fashion. Rules beget changes in behavior and compliance. The actual practice of regime implementation, however, is not linear or neat. Earlier studies have shown that when international rules are demanding and intrusive, they are more likely to conflict with other national commitments – making it difficult to plan and anticipate the process of implementation.
Genetic resources, while seemingly esoteric, are increasingly an arena of global conflict in world politics. The struggle over the control of plant genetic resources is at the core of this battle. During the past century, the international rules for PGR protection shifted quite dramatically from a common heritage, open access system to a system of sovereign resource rights and private intellectual property rights.