US warns Antigua breaking copyright laws may affect future trade relations

Nelson A. King 

WASHINGTON D.C., United States, Wednesday January 30, 2013 – The United Sates is warning Antigua and Barbuda about plans to break copyright laws by getting legal retribution over its refusal to let Americans gamble at online sites based in the Caribbean island.

The Geneva, Switzerland-based World Trade Organization (WTO) Monday allowed Antigua and Barbuda to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights.

Trade analysts speculate that Antigua and Barbuda’s action may involve offering downloads of American intellectual property, like Hollywood films, network television shows or hit pop songs.           

“We are disappointed with Antigua and Barbuda’s decision to abandon constructive settlement discussions,” said Nkenge Harmon, a spokeswoman for the United States trade representative.

“As recently as Friday, our two countries held high-level discussions on possible settlement options that would have brought real benefits to Antigua’s businesses and people,” she added.

The Obama administration also warned Antigua and Barbuda that the proposed plan might further hurt trade relations between the two countries.  

“If Antigua does proceed with the unprecedented plan for its government to authorize the theft of intellectual property, it would only serve to hurt Antigua’s own interests,” Harmon said, adding “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,” she said.

Antigua and Barbuda said it was seeking final WTO approval of its sanctions in order to compel the US either to comply with the rulings in the island’s favour in the gambling dispute or to negotiate a “fair and reasonable solution” with the Antiguan and Barbuda government.

The government said the remedy is “expressly provided” for under WTO law, adding that contrary to what the US has publicly stated, its proposed action will not constitute piracy or theft of intellectual property rights.

Rather, the Antigua and Barbuda government said it will be a “lawful suspension of intellectual property rights, conforming to the judgment of the relevant WTO tribunal”.

For nearly a decade, the Baldwin Spencer government said it has sought to resolve the dispute with Washington over the US’ failure to abide by American treaty obligations with regard to remote gaming.

“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,” said Harold Lovell, Antigua’s finance minister in a statement.

“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,” he added.

Lovell said at its height, the remote gaming industry in Antigua and Barbuda was the country’s second largest employer, with leading international gaming economists estimated that the industry was worth over US $3.4 billion to the Antiguan economy.

‘This economic devastation has been caused by the direct actions of the US,’ he said, stating that fees paid by the gaming industry helped fund public education, healthcare and the country’s infrastructure.

Lovell also said the income boosted consumer spending and other economic activity associated with “a vibrant, high-tech industry’. (CMC) Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)