Tiny Antigua and US at it again

Bert Wilkinson | 12/8/2016, 10:22 a.m.

The government of a tiny Eastern Caribbean nation and the mighty United States are at it again over the refusal of the U.S. to comply with a ruling by the World Trade Organization that went in favor of Antigua instead of the U.S.

This time, the administration of Prime Minister Gaston Browne has given Washington until year-end to come to the table to negotiate a settlement in the dispute over internet gambling, or it will implement trade sanctions against the U.S. From all appearances, this ultimatum is the final move by Antigua to settle a more than decade-old trade row with the U.S.

Until the U.S. used its might to destroy online gaming on platforms based in Antigua, the industry was bringing in more than $1 billion a year to the island’s economy, but the U.S. smashed the sector, saying it was both a security risk and an outlet for tax evasion and money laundering.

Antigua moved to the WTO for a ruling on the dispute and won approximately 12 years ago. In 2007, a dispute resolution panel ruled that the U.S. should pay Antigua $21 million a year to make up for revenues missing from the industry because it was unfairly and illegally destroyed.

Washington has steadfastly and persistently refused to comply and has made a mockery of conciliatory efforts by the government in St. John’s to reach an amicable settlement.

In the past week, however, Antigua through Ambassador to Washington Sir Ronald Sanders said that a line in the sand is being drawn in respect of the dispute.

“If a settlement is not reached before the end of 2016, Antigua would have to resort to the suspension of copyright on the sale of U.S. intellectual property,” he warned, sticking to the tenants of the WTO ruling.

Other Caribbean trade bloc member nations have rallied to the cause of Antigua. Varying levels of regional delegations that have sat at negotiating and other tables with American officials have raised the David versus Goliath issue with little success.

Under the terms of the WTO decision, Antigua would now have the right to abandon respecting American copyright laws that apply to cultural products such as music, film and television productions to recover money lost from the destruction of the internet gambling sector.

Thousands of workers were sent home after the industry collapsed. Federal authorities rounded up and charged several of the players and owners of the industry, ensuring it was smashed to bits.

Still Sanders says that there is enough time for something other than ultimate action to be taken if only the U.S. would either comply with the ruling or agree to settle.

“If they put something on the table that is reasonable that would remove the end-of-year deadline, because then we would have something we could actually look at favorably,” the local Observer Newspaper quoted Sanders as saying. “So far that has not happened. We will only implement that award if absolutely nothing comes forward from the United States that is something that we can live with.”

When it was put to him that Antigua could be bluffing, he noted, “We would hardly have made the statement to the WTO Dispute Settlement Body if we weren’t solid on it.”

Browne, who like his predecessors have all failed to bring the U.S. to heel, said, “Antiguan and Barbudan workers and their families are yet to see the U.S. compensate our country for the sum of $21 million per year since 2007 that the WTO ruled is due to our country.”