December 21, 2012

Antigua online gambling hopes dashed

Antigua’s argument with the United States over legalising online gambling took a blow for the small nation this week with the World Trade Organization (WTO) informing the twin-island state that it would not be allowed to raise the matter at an upcoming forum, despite a WTO pronouncement on the case some years ago.

Antigua & Barbuda High Commissioner to London, Dr Carl Roberts, said on Monday government had submitted to the WTO Secretariat a request for the matter to be included on the agenda for deliberation.

But feedback on the matter suggests that the country would not be requesting the authorization after all, since the Secretariat, in consultation with the United States, decided that the country’s request was untimely.

“Antigua & Barbuda is a small, developing country, under particular economic stress in these difficult times. We haven’t the resources to maintain a mission here in Geneva, and the prosecution of this case and the pursuit of our rights under the WTO agreements have been expensive, enormously time consuming and difficult.“It is very unfortunate that we were, under all circumstances, denied the ability to present our suspensions request to this body today. We will be back to do so in January,” High Commissioner Roberts said in a Caribbean 360 report on Tuesday.

The WTO had in 2007 awarded Antigua & Barbuda the right to target US services, copyrights and trademarks in retaliation for the online betting ban, with a US$21 million limit on annual trade sanctions.

These proceedings were initiated in 2003, and the WTO ruling found in 2004 and 2005 that the US had violated its 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

Government had sought the right to impose US$3.4 billion in retaliatory measures, while Washington offered a mere US$500,000.

The WTO has upheld rulings striking down the US ban, but in 2006 Washington prevented US banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gambling businesses outside the country. According to Dr Roberts, notwithstanding the disappointment at not having the matter addressed, Antigua & Barbuda was again reiterating its position on the matter.

“We did not come to the decision to exercise our suspension rights lightly… What was once a multi-billion dollar industry in our country, employing almost five percent of our population, has now shrunk to virtually nothing,” the High Commissioner said, adding that domestic remote gaming continues to grow in the United States.

He added that for the past several years, since the last WTO proceeding on the matter, the Antigua Government has not been sitting idly by. Nor has it been imposing unrealistic or unbending demands upon the United States.

“Antigua & Barbuda has been working hard to achieve a negotiated solution to this case. We have tabled proposal after proposal to the US government, and attended session after session, in pretty much every case involving our delegation travelling to Washington, DC in hopes of finding some common ground,” Dr Roberts said.

He pleaded to the WTO that to date, the USA has not presented one compromise offer of their own, and in particular the US Trade Representative has made no sincere effort to develop and prosecute a comprehensive solution that would end our dispute.

“We have spent the past five years searching, at great expense and considerable effort for our little country, for the person or persons, the agency or agencies, whomever has the authority and will to work with us to come to a reasonable, just and fair resolution of our dispute,’ Roberts said, noting however, “Sadly we have never found that person, that agency, that whomever.”

The High Commissioner pointed out that the twin-island state maintains that a WTO “member can avoid its obligations to another member under the WTO agreements by simply removing or modifying the part of the agreement that a measure offends, making bilateral arrangements with other members, and leaving the supposedly prevailing member with no remedy at all.”

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