The provisions of the CBD on the fair and equitable use of GRs, including access and benefit sharing (ABS), have often been considered as a model case of sustainable development. Providing GRs for use in research and development, including commercialization and sharing the benefits of such activity, appeared to be beneficial both for the environment and for social and economic development. A few prominent cases of cooperation between resource institutions, research agencies and business have inspired this vision. However, today, business people, researchers, diplomats and officials mainly agree that this vision has not translated into reality in the 15 years that have passed since the adoption of the Convention.1 On the contrary, the issue became one of the most controversial within the CBD. For different reasons, the different actors in the area feel uncomfortable with this state of affairs. While provider countries and institutions point to frequent cases of misappropriation and biopiracy, researchers and industry complain about the distrust and arbitrariness of access procedures. Diplomats within the institutions of the CBD are engaged in lengthy and highly controversial negotiations. In order to better understand this difficulty, it appears to be necessary to clarify the purpose and the backgrounds of the Convention’s ABS system. Furthermore, it will be submitted that different rationales apply to transactions between the private sector and states, and that they reflect different concepts of justice. Such analysis, it is hoped, may contribute to the ongoing negotiations on an international regime for ABS.