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Antigua government seeks opposition support to resolve dispute with U.S.

Published:Monday | February 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM

The Antigua and Barbuda government says it is seeking support from opposition legislators as it seeks to resolve its long standing gaming dispute with the United States.

Finance and Economy Minister Harold Lovell said both sides in Parliament had a stake in the matter as one side brought the matter to the WTO while the other took it to successful conclusion.

It has been almost 10 years since the government of Antigua and Barbuda, led by the former administration, decided to bring a complaint at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against the United States of America for its laws and policies prohibiting Antiguan providers of remote gaming and betting services from offering those services to consumers in the United States, Lovell told legislators.

Earlier this week, the Baldwin Spencer government said it had been granted authorization by the WTO to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights.

In 2007, the WTO awarded Antigua and Barbuda the right to target U.S. 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. Johns initiated WTO dispute proceedings against U.S. federal and state laws barring foreign participation in U.S. Internet gambling markets. The WTO, in rulings in 2004 and 2005, found that the U.S. had violated its 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) which the WTO said allows Internet gambling.

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

But Lovell told Parliament that the government has always welcomed the WTO ruling and that Washington would cease its campaign of prosecution of Antiguan operators, money seizures and blocking of financial transactions once it became incontestable that the United States was clearly in the wrong.

Our hopes and expectations on both counts have, unfortunately, not been met, and not only has the United States failed and refused to comply with the decisions of the tribunal in our case, but they have also failed and refused to negotiate with our Government on a fair and reasonable settlement of the dispute, he said.