Antigua gets go-ahead for WTO trade sanctions against US

ST JOHNS, Antigua, Thursday January 30, 2013 – The World Trade Organization (WTO) has paved the way for Antigua and Barbuda to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights. 

In a move hotly contested by the United States government, the Antigua government is threatening its big neighbour to the north that it will suspend its copyrights and patents on the twin island state, paving the way for unlicensed use of US intellectual property. 

This salvo comes is another effort in the long-running battle by Antigua to get the US to either comply with the WTO’s 2005 rulings in Antigua’s favour in its internet gambling dispute, or to negotiate a fair and reasonable solution with the Antiguan government. 

In 2007, the WTO gave Antigua leeway to force America’s hand by giving the Caribbean nation the right to waive intellectual property rights protections on some US$21 million worth of US goods annually, a fraction of the US$3.44 billion the island requested.

A strong statement by the United States Trade Representative’s office called Antigua’s move to enforce this decision: “unwise”.

“The United States has urged Antigua to consider solutions that would benefit its broader economy. However, Antigua has repeatedly stymied these negotiations with certain unrealistic demands,” said Nkenge Harmon, a spokeswoman for the office.

Harmon added: “Government-authorized piracy would undermine chances for a settlement. It also would serve as a major impediment to foreign investment in the Antiguan economy, particularly in high-tech industries,”

However, Antigua argues that the remedy is expressly provided for under WTO law and, contrary to what the US has publicly stated, will not constitute “piracy” or theft of intellectual property rights, but a lawful suspension of intellectual property rights, conforming to the judgment of the relevant WTO tribunal. 

“The economy of Antigua and Barbuda has been devastated by the United States government’s long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling online with offshore gaming operators. These aggressive efforts to shut down the remote gaming industry in Antigua has resulted in the loss of thousands of good paying jobs and seizure by the Americans of billions of dollars belonging to gaming operators and their customers in financial institutions across the world. If the same type of actions, by another nation, caused the people and the economy of the United States to be so significantly impacted, Antigua would without hesitation support their pursuit of justice,” said Harold Lovell, Antigua’s finance minister. 

“We once again ask our fellow sovereign nation and WTO member, the United States of America, to act in accordance with the WTO’s decisions in this matter, before we move forward with the implementation of the sanctions authorized this day by the WTO,” he added.  Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)