My initial impression was that Indonesia was misbehaving, entering into a deal with Baxter HealthCare to provide Baxter with exclusive access to Indonesian avian flu virus samples, and declining to provide these samples to the World Health Organization.
But let's think this through. In formal terms, Indonesia happens to have a "property" right to these virus samples. (I am assuming that no WHO treaty, the Biosafety protocol, or other legal obligation requires Indonesia to turn these samples over. If anyone knows that they do, let me know.) This property is more valuable than samples of germs for purely tropical or indigenous diseases. Why? Because of globalization. Bird flu seems more mobile than other tropical diseases. So Indonesia's property has a dual externality. It can harm outsiders, and at the same time if others are given access to it in a timely way in order to allow production of a vaccine, it can help outsiders. Actually, the most fascinating thing here is that the positive value is proportional to the magnitude of the potential negative externality. So, in a sense, Indonesia has an incentive to grow this bird flu as virulent and mobile as possible, and to hold closely the formula for the vaccine.
Did TRIPS bring about these incentives? In a way, it appears that it did. By providing for global protection of intellectual property rights, it allows the creation of vaccines to be private goods instead of public goods. This was hoped to promote production of vaccines, but interestingly it might also promote production of disease. Furthermore, even if Indonesia is not ghoulishly interested in promoting the virulence and mobility of bird flu, it has demonstrated that it is interested in benefiting from the production of the vaccine. The vaccine would be protected by TRIPS, so TRIPS has increased the incentives for Indonesia to withhold the samples.
All Indonesia is asking for right now, apparently reasonably, is guaranteed access to affordable vaccines against bird flu. Indonesia complained that "it and many other poor countries did not want their flu strains made into patented vaccines that only rich countries could afford." NYT Article, today.
So, globalization results in a negative externality, and a potential positive externality that can reduce the negative externality. By withholding the positive externality, Indonesia is exercising what may be its international legal jurisdictional rights. So far, it is only asking that the benefits of work using "its" samples be shared freely with it. Seems reasonable. . . .