ST. JOHN’S: Antigua & Barbuda is holding firm in its demand for adequate compensation if the United States maintains its unwillingness to allow the Caribbean nation access to its lucrative online gambling market.
When asked about his nation’s response if the U.S. maintains its position in the negotiation process, Permanent Secretary in the Department of Trade, Industry and Commerce, Ambassador Colin Murdoch, said his country was willing to take access to the U.S. gambling market off the table, if the U.S. is willing to allow admission into equally lucrative spheres in the on-going World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute.
“If it is not possible to get access to the United States market for gambling, then it is not possible,” said Murdoch.
However, he said that a commensurate solution must be struck with the U.S.
“If it is not possible, then we have to be compensated and we have to be compensated appropriately,” said Murdoch. “The offer would have to be meaningful.”
Murdoch said that significant amounts of Antigua & Barbuda’s jobs, companies and assets were lost when the gambling industry was “destroyed” by the United States in 2003.
At that time, Antigua & Barbuda brought a complaint to the dispute settlement panel of the WTO, charging the U.S. with being in contravention of agreement because it was disallowing its citizens from placing online gaming bets with local companies – virtually crippling the industry.
Antigua & Barbuda also argued that recreational services, such as gambling and betting services, were allowable under the General Agreement on Trade Services (GATS), which is an article of the WTO.
However, the U.S. was unwilling to make changes to laws or regulations, and offered an “equal exchange” allowable under GATS. In exchange for gambling rights, officials from the United States Trade Representative (USTR) offered commitments for warehousing services (excluding maritime and airport services), private technical testing services, private research and development services and delivery services relating to outbound international letters.
In response, Murdoch said these are industries that Antigua & Barbuda does not participate in and from which it would not benefit.
“Antigua & Barbuda does not have these sectors, so they are offering us something that is not really useful,” he said. “That is simply because they are going down the traditional road, they are doing what is normally done.”
Murdoch said what is needed is “new and innovative thinking”.
Although the nation received the right to sanction U.S. intellectual property for the amount of US$21 million per year, it has yet to do so.
After years of posturing led to no resolution in the matter, Antigua & Barbuda upped the ante in January when it received approval from the WTO to impose the sanctions. This move led to the USTR office issuing warnings to Antigua & Barbuda.
Since his return from the United States earlier in the month – where he met with USTR representatives and stakeholders in the U.S. intellectual properties community, Murdoch said progress is being made.
“I don’t believe anybody wants that door opened (imposition of sanctions),” he said. “The U.S. doesn’t want it, the intellectual property stakeholders that would be affected don’t want it. And to be frank, it’s not something that Antigua & Barbuda itself wants to do. We want a settlement.”