Antigua and Barbuda confronts US at WTO over unsettled gaming dispute

Sir Ronald Sanders

GENEVA, Switzerland– Antigua and Barbuda is losing hope that “a sense of justice and fairness would prevail” in its 15-year dispute with the United States. And now it may ask the Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to appoint a mediator in its 15-year contention with the United States, the twin-island nation’s Ambassador Sir Ronald Sanders told the organization’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) last week.

The dispute between the two countries revolves around the US government’s efforts to prevent Americans from gambling at online sites based in Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda won the right to suspend obligations to the US in respect of intellectual property rights to recover US$21 million annually.

“Antigua and Barbuda has not acted on that authorization in the hope that the United States would agree to a fair and reasonable settlement. It has not done so because we continued to hope that a sense of justice and fairness would prevail. But we are now losing all hope,” Sir Ronald told the DSB.

“After a long period of exhausting attempts to engage the United States, Antigua and Barbuda is now contemplating approaching the Director-General under the DSU [Dispute Settlement Understanding] provisions to join in seeking a mediated solution that would bring much needed relief after these arduous 15 years of damage to our economy.”

The Ambassador told the WTO member states that Antigua and Barbuda feels disadvantaged by the US, whose violation of the General Agreement on Trade in Services “has caused trade losses of US$315 million to Antigua and Barbuda’s small economy over the last 15 years”.

He pointed out that while the losses to Antigua and Barbuda are significant, “it does not total 0.1 per cent of one year of the GDP of the United States”, emphasizing that “the economy of the United States is 20,000 times larger than Antigua and Barbuda’s”.

Explaining his country’s position, Sanders said: “Antigua and Barbuda has an obligation not only to itself, but to all other nations who uphold the principles and rules of the WTO and look to it for justice. We act in the interest of all.”

In response, the US delegate said that his country had offered the Government of Antigua and Barbuda “creative and generous settlements in 2008 and 2013” that were declined.

He added that the US continues to be interested in negotiations with Antigua and Barbuda and discouraged mediation by the WTO Director-General.

Ambassador Sanders replied that the US offers had been declined because they did not total even one per cent of the losses experienced by Antigua and Barbuda.

Delegations from Barbados, Jamaica, Cuba, Venezuela and Dominica, speaking for all members of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, supported Antigua and Barbuda. No country spoke in support of the United States.

The DSB took note of the discussion which remains open on its agenda.