The WTO, granted sanctions on the United States Antigua and Barbuda this week in its long running dispute over online gambling. This ongoing dispute initially began in 2003 after the United States refused to engage in meaningful negotiations and “commenced the dispute resolution process of the World Trade Organization (“WTO”) to challenge the United States’ total prohibition of cross-border gambling services offered by Antiguan operators.”
A few years later in March 2007, the Dispute Settlement Body of the WTO ruled that the US had failed to comply with the 2005 ruling against prohibitions on Internet gambling. Later in the year, the WTO granted Antigua US$21 million in annual trade sanctions against the US as compensation for damages.
Just a few days ago, news sources revealed that Antigua was granted WTO authorization to suspend US copyrights giving Antigua the authority to provide materials such as software, music, movies, books, etc how they see fit without any compensation to the American entity who owns the materials.
This new allowance by the WTO to Antigua have many believing this could and will lead to a $21 million annual piracy booty as the initial outcome to this 10 year dispute.
“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,” Antigua Finance Minister Harold Lovell said. “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.”
Online gambling was Antigua’s second largest form of economic resources providing more billions of dollars to the Antiguan economy. From a maximum revenue of $2.392 billion and 59% of global online gambling in 2001 while employing 1,014 people, the Antiguan online gambling industry shrunk to an estimated $948 million in 2007 and a miserly 7% of global online gambling with just 333 people employed.
“Antigua has decided to utilize its right under international law to compel treaty compliance by the United States — this decision did not come easily,” said Colin Murdoch, trade ambassador for Antigua. “After countless proposals from our government have been more or less ignored by the Office of the [US Trade Representative] – numerous decisions by the WTO declaring the United States Government’s position illegal – and failure of the United States Government to provide meaningful proposals to end the dispute, the WTO provides this remedy not to encourage illicit behavior by nations; but rather to provide them with a way to secure their legal rights as sovereign nations.”
Will this latest stir in the pot finally get the US to adhere to the original WTO agreement that allowed cross-border gambling and betting services; or will Antigua and Barbuda continue in a “tit-for-tat” battle with the US as the little island getaway is now being dubbed the new “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
Antigua’s government says its goal remains a negotiated settlement.