Antigua invites U.S. to discuss WTO Internet gambling ruling

Antigua and Barbuda has again invited the U.S. government to discuss the World Trade Organization's (WTO) 2003 ruling on the U.S.' restrictions on Internet gambling, which has adversely affected the Caribbean nation's ability to raise revenue through its fledgling online gaming industry.

Antigua and Barbuda's June 8 invitation could eventually lead to the establishment of a WTO panel to determine whether the U.S.' Internet gambling laws comply with international trade rules.

The small nation suggested holding a discussion in the next two weeks. If no agreement is reached within this period, a WTO panel will be created to monitor the U.S.' compliance for a period of three months, a decision that can be appealed by either side.

The two nations have been embroiled in a dispute since 2003, when Antigua challenged the U.S. through the WTO Appellate Body for violating commitments made when the WTO was formed in 1995. U.S. trade officials disagreed, saying the global trade talks which created the WTO excluded a discussion of gambling.

In August 2005, the WTO ruled in Antigua and Barbuda's favor, saying the Wire Act, a U.S. law which prohibits the placing of bets across state lines by electronic means and telephone wires, is a violation of WTO policy. The U.S. was given an April 3, 2006, deadline to amend the legislation but has so far refused to make any adjustments.

Instead, Internet gambling has been the center of legislative campaign spearheaded by Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R.-VA) and Jim Leach, (R.-Iowa) who have introduced two bills seeking to ban Internet wagering entirely in the United States.

Antigua and Barbuda was given the opportunity to voice its concerns and opposition to H.R. 4777, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act, and H.R. 4411, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2005, through written submissions addressed to the House Judiciary Committee's May 26 meeting , at which members ultimately voted 25-11 in favor of passing the two bills.

"The approval by the Judiciary Committee of the so-called 'Goodlatte and Leach Internet Gaming Bills,' represents a troubling about-turn by an important arm of the U.S. Government in response to the crystal-clear recommendations and rulings of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the World Trade Organization (WTO)," said Antigua and Barbuda's Minister of Finance and the Economy, Dr Errol Cort, at the time of the Committee's May meeting.

"On an issue of such importance to Antigua and Barbuda's economic diversification programme and the creation of new and sustainable jobs for our young people, I felt that it was important to make our concerns known," Dr. Cort continued.

"Our Ambassador to the WTO, Dr John W. Ashe, was therefore instructed to formally notify the Chairman of the Committee, Representative James Sensenbrenner of Ohio, that, in our view, each Bill is not only non-responsive to the rulings and recommendations of the DSB, but is directly contrary to the DSB rulings in our WTO dispute with the US in several key respects," said the Minister.

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