ST. JOHN’S: The World Trade Organization has granted Antigua & Barbuda authorization to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights.
“Having initially received preliminary authorization 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,” said a statement issued by the Government of Antigua & Barbuda.
In 2007, the WTO awarded Antigua & Barbuda the right to target U.S. services, copyrights and trademarks in retaliation for its ban on online betting. However, the WTO capped the limit of annual trade sanctions at US$21 million.
The administration of Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer had sought the right to impose US$3.4 billion in retaliatory measures. However, the U.S. only offered US$500,000.
In 2003, Antigua & Barbuda initiated WTO dispute proceedings against U.S. federal and state laws barring foreign participation in American 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 allows Internet gambling.
The WTO has upheld rulings repealing the U.S. ban, but in 2006, the U.S. prevented American banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gambling businesses outside the country.
“The economy of Antigua & Barbuda has been devastated by the United States government’s long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling online with offshore gaming operators,” said A&B’s finance minister, Harold Lovell. “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.
“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 authorized by the WTO.”
The government statement said that at its height, the remote gaming industry in Antigua and Barbuda was the nation’s second-largest employer. Leading international gaming economists have estimated that the industry was worth over US$3.4 billion to the Caribbean nation’s economy.
“Having once employed over 4,000 people, today less than 500 people are employed in the gaming sector. This economic devastation has been caused by the direct actions of the United States,” the statement said.
Antigua & Barbuda Trade Ambassador, Colin Murdoch, said the Spencer government has decided to utilize its right under international law to compel treaty compliance by the United States.
“This decision did not come easily,” said Murdoch. “After countless proposals from our government have been more or less ignored by the Office of the United States Trade Representative…and failure of the United States government to provide meaningful proposals to end the dispute, the WTO provides this remedy not to encourage illicit behaviour by nations, but rather to provide them with a way to secure their legal rights as sovereign nations.
“It is important to note that the intellectual property remedy is incorporated in the WTO agreements and approved by all members, including the United States.”
The statement said that getting the WTO authorization to suspend intellectual property rights “does not require Antigua to ultimately resort to that suspension”. The government remains hopeful that the United States will use the intervening period to engage Antigua in more productive discussions.
“If and when Antigua does take action against American intellectual property holders, it will be done in accordance with international law and under strict supervision and direction of the Antiguan government,” the statement said.
In response to the WTO ruling, the U.S. insisted sanctions against its intellectual property would amount to “theft” and “government-authorized piracy”.