US-Antigua talks collapse
Bert Wilkinson | 11/28/2013, 6 a.m.
The long-running row between the small Eastern Caribbean tourist paradise of Antigua and the U.S. over Washington shutting down electronic gaming outlets on the island because of alleged tax evasion and other troubles continued this past week, with Antiguan negotiators accusing the U.S. of frustrating all efforts at reaching a settlement.
In a clear case of the world’s only superpower bullying one of the tiniest island nations with a population of less than 100,000, Washington has done everything in its power so far to ensure it does not pay the more than $20 million in damages per year the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) awarded Antigua when it defeated the U.S. at the dispute resolution of the case back in 2007.
In the past week, an Antiguan delegation, led by Ambassador Colin Murdoch, reported that talks aimed at settling the quarrel once and for all had collapsed, as it became clear that the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office is not interested in a settlement.
“There is no escaping the fact that this was a disappointing meeting and that the USTR proposals fell far short of what is required to settle this matter,” Murdoch told journalists on his return home, even suggesting that unless there is a drastic change of attitude and approach, “additional meetings are unlikely.”
Antigua, which has the backing of its fellow Caribbean trade bloc nations on the issue, has said that its economy has been devastated by the U.S. move to completely showdown its e-gaming platforms, making the island even more dependent on tourism for survival.
The money the WTO awarded Antigua represents economic sanctions against the U.S.’s after it had lost the case, but the world body had also mandated the two sides sit down at the table and try to agree on how the dispute can be settled without sanctions and other forms of punishment. In essence, the award basically empowers Antigua to suspend intellectual property rights held by American firms.
The e-gaming industry first surfaced in the Caribbean region in the mid-1990s—just about the time when the Internet was beginning to capture the imagination of millions of users. The sector had employed nearly 2000 persons and had seen about 90 companies begin operations until the feds moved to shut them down and warn any Americans involved of prosecution.
Annual revenues to Antigua had peaked at around $120 million about a decade ago before it faded into oblivion, a few years after the international crackdown had started, even though there was uncertainty about whether American domestic law could have upended the Antiguan industry.