The World Trade Organization gave Antigua and Barbados the go-ahead to proceed its imposition of sanctions on the United States, paving the way for the small Caribbean country to seek retribution against its much more powerful neighbor up north.
Antigua’s justified gripe against the US stems from the latter’s decision to ban Internet gambling among its residents, a move that Antigua bemoaned as an unfair trade restriction that has severely crippled the small Caribbean country, costing its economy around $3 billion a year in revenue. Antigua has repeatedly brought up the issue to the World Trade Organization with the latter ruling in 2004 that the US-imposed ban violates the 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services.
In 2007, the WTO ordered the US to pay Antigua $21 million a year in compensation for debilitating the country’s economy. Since then, the US has paid Antigua with nothing more than veiled threats, allowing the compensation to balloon to over $100 million. With the U.S. having little interest of actually honoring the WTO’s sanctions, the latter proceeded to grant Antigua the right to collect the outstanding fine through other course of actions, paving the way for Antigua’s decision to ignore US copyrights by setting up a website to sell materials, including movies, music, and any other form of downloadable content that infringe on US copyrights without shelling a dime on the American copyright holders. CalvinAyre.com called this last April, and now the fruits are coming to bear.
Not surprisingly, Antigua’s plans of moving forward with its state-sanctioned suspension of American copyrights and patents are being met with strong resistance and direct threats by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which vowed consequences should Antigua move forward with threats to set up a file-sharing web site or other method of repercussion that infringes on US copyrights.
“The United States will not tolerate theft of intellectual property and will take whatever steps are most efficient and effective to prevent this from happening,” Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Nkenge Harmon told The Hill.
US groups were also up-in-arms over Antigua’s plans, bemoaning that such sanctions would be government-authorized piracy that’s tantamount to infringement of intellectual property. Upon hearing of Antigua’s plans, Michael Schlesinger, a lawyer for the International Intellectual Property Alliance, told The Hill that “if Antigua moves forward, we will work to ensure that its eligibility to participate in any U.S. trade assistance or benefit is withdrawn.”
Schlesinger’s sentiments have been echoed by other groups including the National Music Publishers’ Association, whose CEO, David Israelite, cautioned the Caribbean nation to vent its issues through the right channels. “Regardless of any dispute over offshore gaming, there is no justification for promoting the theft of the creations of American songwriters,” Israelite told The Hill in an email.
Antigua has long exercised patience in its negotiations with the US over the issue and the country’s government is still holding out hope that a deal can be made with the US to prevent their retaliatory actions from taking place. In a statement, Antigua’s finance minister, Harold Lovell, said that the country is still prepared to talk with the US to come to an agreement that would respect the decision of the WTO, although he did caution that if the US keeps up brushing off these requests, the country will “move forward with the implementation of the sanctions authorized this day by the WTO.”
Opening up a can of worms
Mark Mendel, Antigua’s lead attorney in the case, also warned that the country’s plan of retaliation could open up a can of worms that could lead to broader repercussions in the future. Talking to the intellectual property blog infojustice.org, Mendel pointed out that Antigua’s “retaliation” could create a precedent that other countries might follow in the future. “If we do something inventive that could pose a lot of problems for intellectual property holders. if we create that precedent, the consequences could be enormous,” Mendel said.
“With Antigua, it’s $21 million. Maybe with China it’s going to be U.S. $21 billion. One of the messages we want to get across is that the WTO was sold to smaller countries as a level playing field and a way for them to expand the reach of commerce, subject to a set of rules that apply to everybody.”
In so doing, the WTO gave Antigua the green light to impose sanctions on the US in whatever measure it wants. Chalk this one up to David getting the best of Goliath – again.