Antigua makes “significant concession” in bid to resolve WTO dispute with US

antigua-us-wto-dispute-offerAntigua’s new government says it has made “a significant concession” in a bid to resolve its longstanding World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute with the United States over online gambling. On August 29, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) held its most recent meeting, at which the Antiguan representative said the administration of newly elected Prime Minister Gaston Browne had “formulated yet another comprehensive and realistic proposal” with a view towards realizing “a prompt and final resolution” of the trade dispute, which dates back to the early part of the last decade.

Antigua originally filed a complaint with the WTO in 2003, arguing that the US was in violation of its international trade obligations vis-à-vis its prohibitionist stance against Antigua’s licensed online gambling industry. The WTO agreed that the US couldn’t claim to be acting to protect its citizens from the evils of online gambling while simultaneously allowing its domestic horseracing industry to accept advance deposit wagers over the internet.

Despite numerous appeals by the US Trade Representative (USTR), the WTO has consistently upheld Antigua’s victory. In 2007, the WTO authorized Antigua to collect $21m in annual damages but the US has yet to pay a dime. The WTO subsequently approved a ‘by any means necessary’ plan that would allow Antigua to collect its cumulative $150m+ in damages by offering royalty-free downloads of US intellectual property. Antigua has held off pulling this trigger in the hopes that the USTR would see the light, but the US has refused to budge.

At last Friday’s DSB meeting, the Antiguan representative said the new administration’s proposal represented “a significant concession to the United States from earlier proposals.” Without getting into specifics, Antigua’s rep said the new offer “represents but the slightest fraction of the harm done to the Antiguan economy” via the US’ failure to honor its international trade obligations.

In its statement to the DSB on Friday, the USTR claimed to be “disappointed that Antigua characterizes the US as not making any serious settlement offer,” saying it had offered “a broad range of useful suggestions to settle this dispute in November 2013.” The USTR went on to claim that Antigua had ignored its most recent offer “for a long period of time before just last month indicating that it was not acceptable.” This is a somewhat preposterous claim, given that Antigua’s Ambassador Colin Murdoch publicly stated last November that the USTR’s offer “fell far short of what is required to settle this matter.”

As for Antigua’s latest offer, the USTR said it was “reviewing this most recent communication, which we only recently received, and will continue to work expeditiously toward finding a realistic settlement.” Beyond that, the USTR says its policy it “not to comment publicly on ongoing negotiations.”