Antigua wants the World Trade Organization to mediate its longstanding online gambling dispute with the United States, while the US wants the WTO to just die already.
On Friday, Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador Ronald Sanders told the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) that his country was “losing all hope” of achieving a resolution of the 15-year-old trade dispute with the US over Antigua-licensed online gambling operators’ access to the US market.
Antigua successfully challenged America’s protectionist online gambling policies way back in 2003, and the WTO authorized Antigua to exact $21m in annual remedies until the US brought its policies in line with WTO rules. But the US has to date paid Antigua nothing, and the outstanding tab has since ballooned to $315m.
Sanders said that his country “continued to hope that a sense of justice and fairness would prevail,” but in the absence of said principles, Antigua was “contemplating, once again, approaching the [WTO] Director-General … to join in seeking a mediated solution” to America’s obstructionism.
In response, US Ambassador Dennis Shea called Sanders’ request a “political statement, rather than an effort to engage on a resolution.” Shea reiterated the US position that Antigua’s “extreme demands” for compensation were unwarranted and that Antigua had failed to respond to America’s invitation to further talks.
Sanders countered by pointing out that America’s paltry offers amounted to less than one percent of the economic damage incurred by Antigua, which had been the world’s premier online gambling licensing jurisdiction until the US cut off market access to Antigua’s licensees.
The main problem with Sanders’ quite reasonable request for mediation is that the US has no intention of bringing itself into WTO compliance. Despite the US being the most eager user of the DSB process when it feels hard done by on the world stage, it routinely ignores WTO rulings when they go against the US.
The US stance towards the WTO appears to have taken its cue from the movie Casablanca, in which the corrupt French police Captain Renault explained his financial obligations to Rick’s Café this way: “They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.”
The US under Donald Trump has taken its anti-WTO stance to disturbing new levels. Ambassador Shea announced Friday that the US intends to disregard any ruling by the WTO’s Appellate Body that isn’t issued in the stipulated 90 days, the latest in the America’s ongoing campaign to neuter the global trade fairness guardians.
The US has been blocking appointments of new Appellate Body judges, while demanding that all future rulings be unanimous or else they won’t apply, opening up a situation in which a single judge could upend clear cases of unfair trading practices.
Nearly 70 WTO member countries have signed a petition urging the US to drop its opposition to new judicial appointments, as the seven-member panel is currently down to three following multiple judges reaching the end of their mandated four-year terms.
The US is clearly expecting the WTO to rule against it on the raft of complaints sparked by the Trump administration’s new tariffs on steel, aluminum and a host of other products. Quite apart from America’s habitual mistrust of all international organizations that it cannot control, Trump detests multilateral agreements, preferring bilateral deal-making so he can at least pretend — despite all evidence to the contrary — that he walked away the winner.
In short, even if a WTO-appointed mediator were to rule in favor of Antigua’s claims against the US, the US will simply kick over the chess board, claim the game was rigged and hammer another nail into the international order’s coffin.