Antigua reps in Washington discussing online gambling trade dispute

us-antigua-wtoThe near decade-long online gambling trade dispute between the United States and the Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda continues unabated, although the action has moved from the front pages of newspapers to behind closed doors. Antiguan Minister of Finance Harold Lovell told Caribbean360 that Ambassador Collin Murdoch was ‘engaging’ US Trade Representative (USTR) officials in Washington, DC in the hopes of reaching an “agreed compromise” over the matter.

It’s been eight years since the World Trade Organization (WTO) declared US trade policy vis-à-vis online gambling to be incompatible with international trade law. It’s been six years since the WTO authorized Antigua to impose an annual $21m in trade sanctions against the US for the devastation its trade policies had inflicted upon Antigua’s online gambling industry. Despite the US having long since exhausted all its appeals, Antigua has yet to see either a cent of that annual $21m or any indication that the US was serious in negotiating a proper settlement.

In January, the WTO gave its blessing to Antigua’s plan to collect by other means, such as the launch of a royalty-free download site targeting US intellectual property. Mark Mendel, Antigua’s lead attorney in the trade dispute, says such a site was not intended as a way to compensate Antigua, but to put pressure on the US to belatedly acknowledge their trade obligations under international law and negotiate a compromise acceptable to both parties. The tactic appears to have achieved its intended effect, as speculation about how the download site might work was a hot topic on major mainstream media outlets, generating more press attention than the issue had seen in years.

On Feb. 27, other Caribbean nations spoke up in support of Antigua at the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) meeting in Geneva. The Commonwealth of Dominica expressed its “disappointment” at the US’ lack of compliance, a statement that was supported by other CARICOM nations, including Barbados, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Lovell said he was most pleased by the “strong, tangible” show of support, and noted that Brazil, Cuba and China had also voiced their support of Antigua’s cause.

While Lovell confirmed that “discussions are continuing” in Washington and that a compromise remains the “preferable” course of action, he maintained that Antigua would “avail ourselves of any of the rights and remedies which have been offered to us.”