Anitgua receives new lease from WTO in battle with United States
ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Monday January 28, 2013 – The Antigua and Barbuda government said Monday it had been granted authorization by the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights.
“Having initially received preliminary authorization to do so from the WTO in 2007 and negotiating in good faith with the United States government for a settlement of the case over the course of the last five years, Antigua is seeking final WTO approval of its sanctions in order to compel the United States to either comply with the rulings in Antigua’s favour in the gambling dispute or to negotiate a fair and reasonable solution with the Antiguan government, “ according to a government statement issued here.
It said that the remedy is expressly provided for under WTO law and, contrary to what the United States has publicly stated, will not constitute “piracy” or theft of intellectual property rights.
“Rather, it will be a lawful suspension of intellectual property rights, conforming to the judgment of the relevant WTO tribunal.”
In 2007, the WTO awarded Antigua and Barbuda the right to target U.S. services, copyrights and trademarks in retaliation for its online betting ban. But the WTO capped the limit of annual trade sanctions at US$21 million.
The Spencer administration had sought the right to impose US$3.4 billion in retaliatory measures, while Washington offered a mere US$500,000.
In 2003, St. John’s initiated WTO dispute proceedings against U.S. federal and state laws barring foreign participation in U.S. Internet gambling markets. The WTO, in rulings in 2004 and 2005, found that the U.S. had violated its 1994 General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) which the WTO said allows Internet gambling.
The WTO has upheld rulings striking down the U.S. ban, but in 2006, Washington prevented U.S. banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gambling businesses outside the country.
“The economy of Antigua and Barbuda has been devastated by the United States government’s long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling on-line with offshore gaming operators.
“These aggressive efforts to shut down the remote gaming industry in Antigua have 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,” said Finance Minister Harold Lovell.
The Finance Minister said 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.
“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.
The government statement said that at its height, the remote gaming industry in Antigua was the country’s second largest employer, and leading international gaming economists estimated that the industry was worth over US$3.4 billion to the Antiguan economy.
“Having once employed over 4,000 people, today less than five hundred persons are employed in the gaming sector. This economic devastation has been caused by the direct actions of the United States,” the statement said, noting that “fees paid by the gaming industry helped fund public education, healthcare and the country’s infrastructure, and the income boosted consumer spending and other economic activity associated with a vibrant, high-tech industry”.
Antigua and Barbuda Trade Ambassador, Colin Murdoch said that the Baldwin Spencer government has decided to utilize its right under international law to compel treaty compliance by the United States.
“This decision did not come easily. After countless proposals from our government have been more or less ignored by the Office of the USTR...and failure of the United States government to provide meaningful proposals to end the dispute, the WTO provides this remedy not to encourage illicit behaviour by nations; but rather to provide them with a way to secure their legal rights as sovereign nations,” he said.
“It is important to note that the intellectual property remedy is incorporated in the WTO agreements and approved by all members, including the United States,” Murdoch added.
The government statement said that getting the WTO authorization to suspend intellectual property rights “does not require Antigua to ultimately resort to that suspension, and the government remains hopeful that the United States will use the intervening period to engage the Antiguan Government in more productive discussions.
“If and when Antigua does take action against American intellectual property holders, it will be done in accordance with international law and under strict supervision and direction of the Antiguan government,” the statement said.
Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Investment Authority, Dr. McChesney Emanuel, said that as a result of the US failure to comply with international law, “the Antiguan economy and our citizens have suffered.
“In previous statements, the United States has indicated there could be possible adverse consequences for Antigua and its citizens for resorting to this WTO-sponsored remedy.
“We assume this is just rhetoric for public consumption, and we look forward to the United States putting aside these tactics and focusing their future efforts on thoughtful negotiation rather than on hyperbole and intimidation,” said Emanuel.
Last week, the Antigua and Barbuda government denied international media reports that the island was seeking permission from the WTO to run a website that would sell music, movies and software, while ignoring copyright laws.
Murdoch said that while Antigua and Barbuda would be “taking certain action” at the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Board on Monday, the island “does not intend to run a pirate website.
“To run a pirate site it would be illegal. Whatever Antigua and Barbuda does it will be authorised by the WTO and will be in fact complying with the terms of the judgement given by the WTO. So the question of piracy does not arise,” he added. (CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)