An umbrella body overseeing trade and aid relations between the U.S. and the Caribbean will convene in the Bahamas this week for its annual review meeting, which will include updates on a simmering international gaming row between the U.S. and Antigua, the Guyana-based trade bloc said.
The joint Trade and Investment Council, which last met in the U.S. a year ago, will also look at issues ranging from complaints by the Caribbean nations about heavy subsidies the U.S. has given to rum producers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the detrimental effects the subsidies have on rum production in the Caribbean nations and export to the American mainland.
The region has lodged formal protest notes with U.S. officials about the subsidies, but no abatement decision has been taken so far. The matter is high on the agenda, as are demands from Antigua that it must be compensated by the U.S. for dismantling its lucrative international online gaming industry that had employed more than 4,000 people and had brought in millions to the island’s economy.
The Barbados-based West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers Association, governments and diplomats from the Caribbean have lobbied Capitol Hill, albeit unsuccessfully, for a review of the legislation that allows Cruzan Rums in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Diageo PLC’s Puerto Rico operations to benefit from heavy US government subsidies.
Trade between the US and the region is worth $21.8 billion, representing a 39 percent increase in the past decade, the bloc said, even as officials predict that increases could dip in the short term as rum exports decline.
The more than a decade-long conflict between tiny Antigua and the U.S. over the dismantling of the gaming system will likely spur spirited debate, but regional officials say they expect little movement in this area.
Antigua has defeated the U.S. at every level of its appeal to the World Trade Organization on the matter, but the U.S. has steadfastly refused to comply with rulings to compensate the island for its massive economic losses.
Speaking on the issue recently, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said the island is willing to negotiate a reasonable and respectful settlement, as he expressed frustration with the Goliath attitude of Washington on the issue.
“We have reduced the amount of the claim,” he said. “In fact, we are now asking for US$100 million, negotiable, of course.”
The bloc also said that a review of regional countries complying with American copyright and intellectual property rights will also be undertaken. St. Kitts was recently dropped from the list of complying countries for allegedly stealing computer assembly technology, the bloc said.