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Baldwin Spencer's threat - Sanctions possible against US

Published:Wednesday | July 7, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Baldwin Spencer, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. - File

Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer Monday said that Antigua and Barbuda would seek sanctions against the United States (US) if Washington continues to thwart efforts at finding a negotiated solution to its dispute over Internet gaming services.

Spencer said that his twin-island nation had sought unsuccessfully since the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruling in 2007 to secure a negotiated settlement with the US and would now seek an early meeting with President Barack Obama on the issue.

"Antigua and Barbuda is concerned that the negotiations are being protracted, with no potential end in sight," he said, speaking in Montego Bay, Jamaica at the 31st annual Caricom Summit.

"In light of the obvious unwillingness of the US to reach a negotiated settlement that takes into account the contribution of the sector to the economic well-being of Antigua and Barbuda, we have brought the matter before the Conference of the Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community, which has supported Antigua and Barbuda's position on this matter from the inception."

Antigua had sought US$3.4 billion per year in trade sanctions, but was awarded US$21 million per year.

Spencer said he is hoping to secure "firm regional support to call upon the United States, a hemispheric partner, once and for all, to settle this outstanding matter" dating back to 2007.

But in an immediate reaction, his political opponents suggested that his words were foolhardy and more likely to hurt Antiguans than the US.

"Antigua and Barbuda is a tiny market representing less than 0.001 per cent of US trade in goods and services," said the opposition Antigua Labour Party in a statement Tuesday.

"Sanctions against US goods and services in the form of higher taxes or duties would be of no consequence whatsoever to the US but it would increase the price of such goods to the local consumers, raising the cost of living even more."

CARICOM has the authority to act in unison to protect the interest of member states and should utilise "all at its disposal to facilitate settlement of this matter," he said.

Economy suffering

"In the absence of a resolution, the economy of Antigua and Barbuda is suffering. There has been a dramatic decline in the sector, significant increase in unemployment as a result, stakeholders, business operators are suffering and many have left our shores for other parts because of this elusive settlement," Spencer told a news conference.

He said that while his country has the right to impose sanctions upon Washington in keeping with the WTO rules, it remained committed to exhausting all possibilities for a negotiated settlement.

"Nevertheless, given the debilitating impact of the fiscal and economic crisis on our economy and the apparent disinterest of the United States in dealing decisively with this matter, Antigua and Barbuda may have no other alternative but to signal to the WTO that we wish to impose sanctions," added Spencer.

"We are fast running out of options."

Spencer said he did not believe that his country's membership in the Venezuela-led Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas was a reason behind Washington's hardened position, telling reporters that during the Prime Ministerial sub-committee on external negotiations, the Internet gaming case was cited as a clear example of the difficulties small countries encounter in getting justice from WTO rulings in their favour.

"Clearly there is need for urgent reform of the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, especially relating to enforcement of its rulings," he said.

"There must be one rule for all countries, small and large, since we are living in a rules-based world."

Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, who was at the news conference, said his country would support Antigua on the matter.