Antigua to impose sanctions against US on Dec. 17 over WTO intransigence


antigua-wto-sanctionsAntigua & Barbuda has announced it intends to drop a giant lump of coal into the United States’ stocking one week before Christmas. On Sunday, Antigua Finance Minister Harold Lovell informed the Associated Press that, barring some last minute settlement, his nation would make good on threats to impose multi-million dollar sanctions on the US under the terms of a 2007 World Trade Organization ruling. On Dec. 17, Antigua will inform the WTO as to the specific retaliatory actions it intends to take against US industries for America’s failure to abide by the rules of international trade law.

If you’re just joining us, Antigua has won multiple battles at the WTO over the US refusal to allow Antigua-based online gambling companies fair access to the US market. Under the terms of a 2007 WTO ruling, the US was ordered to compensate Antigua to the tune of $21m per year. The WTO ruling also stated that if the US failed to comply, Antigua was entitled to collect the sum by other means, such as disregarding intellectual property copyrights on US-produced films, music and other creative works and trademarks. Until now, Antigua has refrained from doing so in the hopes the US would agree to join the civilized world and abide by the international rules America so frequently demands other nations observe. But the US has refused to negotiate, and the sum it owes Antigua now totals over $100m.

Lovell told the AP’s David McFadden that given the disparity between his nation and the mighty US, “it is not our intention to have a fight with the United States. But we believe also that as a sovereign nation we are entitled to all the rights and the protection of the WTO. We believe the time has come [to pursue sanctions] having exhausted all other possibilities.” Lovell said the US intransigence had devastated Antigua’s once thriving online gambling industry, which at its peak employed 3,000 of the island’s residents but now accounts for a mere 400 employees. “We have basically been driven over our fiscal cliff … We feel that we really have had our backs pushed right up against the wall.”

Lovell noted the irony of the US threatening to take China to the WTO over that nation’s pirating of US trademarked products. “We believe that the same rules that apply to big countries should be the same rules that apply to small countries. It is very difficult for us to sit back and hear the United States speak about unfair trade practices that are alleged against China, and at the same time … we’ve played by the rules, we’ve done everything that we were required to do, we were successful – and yet we have not been able to arrive at a proper conclusion to this matter.” In September, Antigua retained the services of PR firm Levick to enlist support for its cause among prominent US think-tanks and more fair-minded politicians in Washington. has reached out to Mark Mendel, Antigua’s principal attorney in the WTO dispute, and will report back if he has any further info on just who/what Antigua intends to target on Dec. 17. It will be more than interesting to see how the US government responds to Sunday’s news, given that the film, TV and music industries expected to be targeted by Antigua’s sanctions have powerful friends on Capitol Hill and are responsible for much of the US’ willingness to project its legal values beyond its shores (see the ongoing extradition of Kim Dotcom, the failed extradition of Richard O’Dwyer, the bid to shut down international-based .com domains without a court order, etc.) If we were Lovell or any other member of Antigua’s elected officials, we’d keep an eye on the sky in case Seal Team Six gets a new mission critical. But in the meantime, anyone who was planning on picking up a DVD box set as a Christmas present may want to hold off until launches in another week or so…