Trading Knowledge. The Southern dimension of TRIPS and GATS
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Since the conclusion of the GATT Uruguay Round in 1994, both the content of human intellectual activity and its dissemination have undergone an ongoing process of commodification. Cultural and technological inventions have been subsumed into a far-reaching intellectual property rights regime (TRIPS), by which intangible ideas are transformed into tradable goods. At the same time, the dissemination of human experiences and thoughts, e.g. in education and broadcasting, is increasingly perceived as a merchantable service (GATS). The predominant focus on the exchange value triggers a redefinition of knowledge itself, while at the same time altering the modes of its production and distribution.
During the past decade, however, the commodification of knowledge has been met with mounting opposition. Whereas supporters argue for an enhanced allocative efficiency of market-driven processes and predict a rise of human creative endeavor due to investment incentives, critics highlight a widening knowledge divide between industrialized and developing states, as well as growing inequalities within the countries of the southern hemisphere. This holds particularly true in those sectors in which societal counter-movements have successfully shown that alternatives to genuine market-led production and distribution models are practically feasible, and in some cases may prove superior to a purely economical approach. A special issue of the Austrian Journal of Development Policy attempts to shed some light on the conflicts about knowledge commodification in the context of developing countries. At the Workshop "Trading Knowledge", organized by the Otto Suhr Institute, Free University Berlin, the authors and invited revierwers discussed the submitted papers.