Antiguan PM restates legitimacy of WTO complaint against U.S.

Antigua-WTO-Baldwin-SpencerLast week, Antigua’s Prime Minister, Dr. Hon. Baldwin Spencer, spoke to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) about his government’s frustration at the United States’ refusal to comply with the many World Trade Organization rulings that recognized Antigua’s licensed online gaming companies as legally operating under international law. By ignoring such rulings, America is widely regarded as undermining the spirit of cooperation that makes international trade agreements possible.

Equipped with its fistful of favorable WTO rulings, not to mention a new agreement on server hosting with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, Antigua is one of the best licensing jurisdictions available to U.S.-facing online gaming operators. (Kahnawake, with its unique historical treaty rights recognized by the governments of both America and Britain, is also among the gaming world’s top licensing jurisdictions.)

Following his appeal to CARICOM, Dr. Spencer delivered a State of the Union address to the citizens of his nation, in which he restated his call for America to abide by the terms of the international agreements it has signed. After all, America has often cited WTO rulings in its efforts to block other nations’ restrictive trade practices. Unless America is willing to recognize the WTO’s authority in all cases, and not just when it suits America’s self-interest, then the entire system of international commerce will rapidly devolve into a ‘might makes right’ free for all, in which every nation will be the loser.

The following is an excerpt of Dr. Spencer’s address to his nation:

Heads of Government of CARICOM came together in Montego Bay, Jamaica this past week for our 31st Regular Meeting. I had the honour of leading our country’s small delegation to that meeting as we sought answers and forged common positions for the many problems facing our region.

For Antigua and Barbuda, one of the most far-reaching decisions taken by CARICOM Heads of Government in Montego Bay, was the formal endorsement of our country’s position in the long running dispute with the United States of America, over compensation that is due to us for US action which has effectively shut down the Internet gaming industry here.

If you recall, at its peak some ten years ago, the online gaming industry offered services to clients in the US, employed almost ten per cent of the population of Antigua and Barbuda, and accounted for more than one billion dollars in revenue each year.

The US banned our online gaming services to consumers in their country and carried out criminal prosecutions of persons operating gaming companies in Antigua and elsewhere.

These actions violated the obligations of the US under the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services.

Despite the WTO having ruled in favour of Antigua and Barbuda and against the US action at every stage of the dispute, we have been unable to realise any benefits from those victories. The last such ruling in our favour was in 2007.

Antigua and Barbuda has the right under WTO law to seek from the US, remedies which are commonly referred to as sanctions or penalties. One such remedy could be to suspend the application of United States intellectual property rights with respect to Antigua. Other possible penalties exist.

Recently Brazil had a similar dispute with the United States over unfair subsidies to American cotton farmers that unfairly threatened the survival of the cotton industry in Brazil. Brazil succeeded in the case before the WTO, and in the face of inaction on the part of the US, Brazil applied to the WTO for the right to impose retaliatory sanctions against the US under WTO dispute settlement rules.

After Brazil was granted WTO approval to impose sanctions, the Americans agreed to a settlement. That settlement in April this year, among other things, provides an annual payment from the United States to Brazil on behalf of the harmed cotton farmers.

Acting alone, Antigua and Barbuda lacks the resources and influence to compel the United States to either comply with the WTO ruling and remove the online gaming ban, or to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement.

My Government remains committed to a negotiated settlement of this matter.

While urging the US to the negotiating table, CARICOM has formally endorsed Antigua and Barbuda’s right to seek WTO approval to implement against the US, any remedies open to us at this time.

Even as we seek a speedy resolution to this matter, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has the highest regard for the people and Government of the United States. We continue to value our longstanding friendship with the US and the cooperation and partnership we share in several areas.