Antigua, US trade reps signal progress on resolving WTO online gambling dispute

antigua-wto-online-gambling-dispute-talksAntigua’s contentious online gambling trade dispute with the United States has taken a more cordial turn following meetings in Washington between the two nations’ trade representatives.

Late last month, Antigua’s Minister of International Trade and Foreign Affairs Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez traveled to Washington to meet with the US Trade Representative (USTR) in a bid to resolve the 12-year-old standoff over the US refusal to grant Antigua’s licensed online gambling operators access to the US market.

Following Fernandez’s meeting with Assistant USTR for the Western Hemisphere John Melle, the two parties issued a joint statement calling their discussion “productive and useful for the exploration of various elements that could ultimately bring closure to the matter.” Both governments have now vowed to continue their talks “at an early date with a view to reaching a final settlement … as expeditiously as possible.”

While slight on details, considering the acrimony that has surrounded this dispute, this is roughly on par with Sheldon Adelson publicly hugging Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameini. Okay, not quite, but you get the picture.

In 2003, Antigua took its case to the World Trade Organization, which eventually issued a ruling supporting Antigua’s claim that America’s online gambling stance was an improper trade barrier. The WTO upheld this ruling on appeal and authorized Antigua to claim an annual $21m in penalties until the US addressed the situation, but the US simply dug in its heels and refused to acknowledge its WTO defeat.

Since that original ruling, the total sum Antigua has been authorized to collect has swollen to nearly $200m. Taking a page out of Malcolm X’s playbook, the WTO authorized Antigua to collect this sum by any means necessary, including offering royalty-free downloads of US intellectual property.

Antigua has so far held off on pulling this trigger in the hopes that the US would learn that the WTO wasn’t simply a unilateral instrument with which to threaten China for imposing barriers on US companies. Antigua has reportedly made proposals that would resolve the dispute for a one-time payment of $100m. It remains to be seen whether this offer was what brought the US back to the table.