Antigua goes before WTO Friday


Antigua and Barbuda will be back at the World Trade Organization Friday, presenting its argument justifying the $3.4 billion in sanctions it is asking for against the United States in the two nations' dispute over online gambling.

After a lengthy, years-long struggle with the United States, the tiny island nation is seeking compensation now that the WTO has once again ruled that U.S. online gambling laws are contradictory to WTO trade policies.

Online gambling companies have become a big part of Antigua and Barbuda's economy, and the loss of the U.S. gambling market has hurt it significantly - to the tune of $3.4 billion.

"The $3.4 billion is just what we're entitled to by virtue of them not having complied with the decision," said Mark Mendel, Antigua and Barbuda's attorney at the WTO, in the Antigua Sun.

He explained that it was just the beginning of the nation's claim, and that it has yet to file a claim to address the issue of the United States' decision to withdraw from the WTO's General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in order to maintain its online gambling ban.

Mendel indicated that claim would be equal to or greater than their initial compensation claim, bringing the total amount sought to approximately $7 billion.

Friday's hearing, however, is just about the initial $3.4 billion claim, which Mendel has maintained is completely defensible.

"It's a massive number but, after talking to the economists and going through everything, it is a very realistic number," Mendel said in the Antigua Sun.

While the figure is several times Antigua and Barbuda's GDP, the online gambling industry has created massive wealth for Antigua and Barbuda and its online gambling companies, wealth Mendel said has been almost destroyed by the actions of the United States.

Mendel has also met with ambassadors from the Office of the United States Trade Representative to discuss resolving issues between the two nations, particularly that of the U.S.'s GATS pullout.

"We've asked them to give us some proposals as to how they could solve things with us, and they have yet to really give us any firm proposal," Mendel said in the Antigua Sun. "I think the reason that they did (call the meetings) was just so that they could say they did so."

Antigua isn't the only country the United States is facing compensation claims from now that the WTO case is finalized. The European Union has filed a $15 billion claim and Australia, Costa Rica, Canada, India, Japan and Macao have announced intentions to file claims as well.

Some media sources have already gotten on board with the United States just legalizing online gambling and clearing up the whole mess. Now Newsday has voiced support for the idea as well.

In an editorial on Wednesday, Newsday said "Antigua challenged that prohibition before the World Trade Organization and won - twice. Congress should accept that reality and replace the ban with regulation designed to ensure the financial integrity of gaming in cyberspace, to screen out minors and to make sure that the United States gets its cut in taxes."

The editorial made the point that the WTO can't afford to back down against the United States. It has aggressively enforced rulings against smaller countries, and the organization would lose credibility if it allows the United States to get away with a violation.

"The integrity of the United States is also at issue. This country can't respect trade rules that benefit us and ignore those that don't without undermining valuable free trade agreements," the editorial said.

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