|Antigua isn’t happy with the anti-gambling activities of the US federal government, claiming that those policies contravene the General Agreement on Trade and Services by cutting off one of the Caribbean island’s sources of income – online gambling. But the attempt to get the US to submit to the rulings of an international body (never an easy task with the neo conservatives in the White House) has hit a hitch. |
Antigua had tried to bring the US before a dispute panel has been halted for a period of up to thirty days on a technicality – both parties cannot agree on the composition of a WTO panel to hear the issue.
Representatives of the US and Antigua traveled to a meeting chaired by the WTO secretariat last week in Geneva to debate the complaint Antigua lodged against the US in June this year. Antigua claims that American legislation aimed at cutting off funding methods for Internet gambling transactions are a violation of the General Agreement on Trade and Services and are devastating the Antigua and Barbuda economy.
In response, the US reportedly successfully blocked the island request to the WTO that an arbitration panel be commissioned. The case then went to dispute settlement in July, and the establishment of a panel to resolve the dispute was ordered, effective at the current meetings in Geneva.
However, the composition of such a panel was too contentious for both parties. Antigua’s lead negotiator Sir Ronald Sanders accused the Americans for being responsible for the lack of progress, saying ''We were provided with two lists of people by the WTO secretariat, most of whom were rejected by the US on the basis that they didn’t like what someone said about them or wrote about them or whatever.'
Sanders then asked the director general of the WTO to appoint a panel, which has apparently now been done, enabling the arguing parties to present their cases and abide by the resultant findings. 'It has to happen within 30 days,' Sanders said. 'There are very clear rules laid down on all of this, you know; there is no hemming and hawing about it. They just have to proceed on the basis of the rules.'
Antigua's Prime Minister Lester Bird puts the cost of to the Antiguan economy of American policies on Internet gambling at $30 million. Antigua licensed and drew revenues from over a hundred online gambling operators two years ago, employing 5 000 islanders. Now however, only 40 operators remain.