Last week saw another sad chapter added to the almost decade-long online gambling trade dispute between Antigua and the United States. Despite the World Trade Organization (WTO) having long since agreed with Antigua that the US had violated the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) by blocking Antigua-based online gambling companies from offering services to US residents, the US has steadfastly refused to comply with the WTO rulings, nor made good on the millions of dollars in compensation Antigua is owed as a result of those rulings.
In mid-April, Antigua Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer met with US Trade Representative Ron Kirk to discuss the case. Spencer said Antigua’s online gaming industry had been “decimated by the actions of the United States and we believe that we must be fairly compensated for those losses.” Spencer said there had been “no fairness in the proposals received from the United States to date” but Kirk assured Spencer that the US “remained committed to working with Antigua and Barbuda in finding a solution to the case.”
In a subsequent hearing at the WTO, Antigua presented a letter detailing their frustration with the apparent unwillingness of the US to present any concrete plan designed to bring the dispute to a satisfactory conclusion. The US responded by blaming the lack of progress on Antigua. On Wednesday, Antigua’s legal advisor Mark Mendel told the Antigua Observer that the US statement was an “unfortunate” attempt to give the impression that Antigua had been “very intransigent and demanding and refusing to compromise … where the opposite is really the truth. We have been very open and very willing and very, very forthcoming; we have never refused to do anything. Really what they want us to do is drop the case and go away. Win and then lose.”
Mendel also took issue with the US statement on the WTO website that Antigua’s version of events “did not reflect history or reality.” Mendel called this argument “particularly misleading … We have been fair, honest and open and they have been unwilling. It takes two people to negotiate.” To underscore this point, Mendel pointed out that Antiguan representatives have made over a dozen trips to Washington trying to negotiate a settlement, while the USTR has visited Antigua just once.
Mendel says not only is the US “not really negotiating, but they are continuing to aggressively violate their WTO agreement” by bringing prosecutions against Antigua-based online gambling operators. “There is no other WTO member in the world that puts people in jail for conducting lawful trade … It really is particularly egregious, I think, because we have a very clear decision in our favor saying that we are entitled to do that.”