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Antigua gives US new ultimatum in gaming dispute

Published:Friday | December 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda, Gaston Browne.

The Antigua & Barbuda government has given the United States until the end of the year to settle the long-running dispute over Internet gaming amid claims in excess of US$200 million.

The Browne administration, which earlier this year dismissed a proposal by the US to end the dispute, has given Washington until the end of next month to agree to a settlement or face sanctions.

A statement posted on the World Trade Organization (WTO) website noted that St John's has warned that "if a settlement was not reached before the end of 2016, Antigua would have to resort to the suspension of copyright on the sale of US intellectual property".

Antigua's Ambassador to the United States, Sir Ronald Sanders, in an interview with Observer Media, said "if they put something on the table that is reasonable [then] that would remove the end-of-year deadline, because then we would have something we could actually look at favourably. So far, that has not happened."

In 2005, the WTO ruled that Washington had violated international trade agreements by prohibiting operation of offshore Internet gambling sites. Antigua claimed that it lost US$3.4 billion a year due to the US action, but the WTO awarded the island US$21 million.

But in its final ruling, the Geneva-based WTO allowed Antigua to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the US in respect of intellectual property rights.

In September 2014, the Browne administration said that it was seeking US$100 million to settle the dispute, admitting that while the figure represents a reduction on what St John's had originally been demanding, it is negotiable and could be a mixture of cash and kind.

In July this year, Prime Minister Gaston Browne,

in a radio and television broadcast, said then that his administration had dismissed a proposal by the United States to end their long-running dispute over Internet gaming.

Browne said Antigua cannot be deprived of the money owed to it and was adopting a new strategy in a bid to recover the funds.

The dispute between Antigua and the US dates back to 1998 when the Americans enacted laws that prevented foreign-based operators from offering gambling and betting services to its citizens, in breach of commitments to members of the WTO under the General Agreement on Trade in Services, or GATS.