Antiguan avengers assemble! Belatedly embracing the realization that the United States government has no intention of honoring its World Trade Organization (WTO) obligations, the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda has decided to take matters into its own hands. On Wednesday, the Antiguan government announced the formation of a select committee to implement the suspension of US intellectual property rights, as authorized by the WTO earlier this year in retaliation for America’s mistreatment of Antigua’s domestic online gambling industry.
In case you’ve been under a rock, Antigua launched a WTO challenge in 2003 based on its claim that US efforts to block Antigua-based online gambling companies from offering services to US residents were incompatible with the protection America afforded its domestic interstate online horserace wagering business. The WTO sided with Antigua and gave the US three options: scuttle its domestic online horse wagering, open its market to Antiguan companies or negotiate a compensatory settlement. The US opted for ‘none of the above,’ which prompted the WTO to award Antigua $21m in annual damages, effective from April 2006. To date, the US has cut checks to Antigua worth precisely zero dollars and zero cents, leaving an unpaid tab of nearly $150m.
Earlier this year, Antigua announced it was considering launching a royalty-free download site that would offer US intellectual property – movies, TV shows, music, etc. – for mere pennies on the dollar. Antigua hoped this nuclear option would encourage the US Trade Representative to resume good-faith negotiations, but despite followup meetings with the USTR and even with US Vice-President Joe Biden, little substantive progress has been made.
Antigua’s Attorney General Justin Simon lamented the US’ historic unwillingness to “put a fair settlement offer on the table,” but said that “in any event, at least there will be some substantial compensation to Antigua and Barbuda as the IP suspensions are implemented.” Simon insisted that Antigua’s implementation of the suspensions would observe all applicable international and domestic laws.
Simon will chair the seven-member WTO Remedies Implementation Committee (RIC), which will include representatives of the departments of Trade, Finance and Legal Affairs. Mark Mendel, Antigua’s lead attorney in the long-running WTO action, will also serve on the committee, which will have its first session within a week and is expected to deliver a progress report to the Antiguan government within two weeks of its first meeting.