WTO gives Antigua new lease in battle with US

Published: Tuesday | January 29, 2013 Comments 0

The Antigua and Barbuda government said Monday it had been granted authorisation by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States (US) in respect of intellectual property rights.

"Having initially received preliminary authorisation to do so from the WTO in 2007 and negotiating in good faith with the United States government for a settlement of the case over the course of the last five years, Antigua is seeking final WTO approval of its sanctions in order to compel the United States to either comply with the rulings in Antigua's favour in the gambling dispute or to negotiate a fair and reasonable solution with the Antiguan government, " according to a government statement issued here.

It said that the remedy is expressly provided for under WTO law and, contrary to what the US has publicly stated, will not constitute "piracy" or theft of intellectual property rights.

"Rather, it will be a lawful suspension of intellectual property rights, conforming to the judgment of the relevant WTO tribunal."

In 2007, the WTO awarded Antigua and Barbuda the right to target US services, copyrights and trademarks in retaliation for its online betting ban. But the WTO capped the limit of annual trade sanctions at US$21 million.

The Spencer administration had sought the right to impose US$3.4 billion in retaliatory measures, while Washington offered a mere US$500,000.

In 2003, St John's initiated WTO dispute proceedings against US federal and state laws barring foreign participation in US Internet gambling markets. The WTO, in rulings in 2004 and 2005, found that the US had violated its 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services, which the WTO said allows Internet gambling.

The WTO has upheld rulings striking down the US ban, but in 2006 Washington prevented US banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gambling businesses outside the country.

"The economy of Antigua and Barbuda has been devastated by the United States government's long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling online with offshore gaming operators.

"These aggressive efforts to shut down the remote gaming industry in Antigua have resulted in the loss of thousands of good paying jobs and seizure by the Americans of billions of dollars belonging to gaming operators and their customers in financial institutions across the world," said Finance Minister Harold Lovell.

"We once again ask our fellow sovereign nation and WTO member, the United States of America, to act in accordance with the WTO's decisions in this matter, before we move forward with the implementation of the sanctions authorised this day by the WTO," he added.

The government statement said that at its height, the remote gaming industry in Antigua was the country's second largest employer, and leading international gaming economists estimated that the industry was worth over US$3.4 billion to the Antiguan economy.

"Having once employed over 4,000 people, today less than 500 persons are employed in the gaming sector. This economic devastation has been caused by the direct actions of the United States," the statement said.

It added that "fees paid by the gaming industry helped fund public education, health care and the country's infrastructure, and the income boosted consumer spending and other economic activity associated with a vibrant, high-tech industry".

Antigua and Barbuda Trade Ambassador Colin Murdoch said that the Baldwin Spencer government has decided to utilise its right under international law to compel treaty compliance by the US.

- CMC

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