Antigua wins $21 million in trade sanctions


After weeks of delay the WTO panel of arbitrators finally released their decision based regarding Antigua's long running dispute with the United States over Internet gambling.

The panel awarded the right for Antigua to violate copyright protection on items like films and music from the U.S., although only up to a maximum of $21 million a year.

Antigua was seeking $3.4 billion in lost revenue from the U.S. due to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The U.S., meanwhile, balked at the number and called it "patently excessive" suggesting that $500,000 was closer to the real number.

The small Caribbean nation can now conceivably produce copies of U.S. DVDs and music CDs without having to worry about copyright infringement.

It's an unusual ruling and many are considering it to be a landmark moment for global trade.

"I am pleased that the panel approved our ability to cross-retaliate by suspension of intellectual property rights of United States business interests," said Mark Mendel, lead lawyer for the Antiguan government in the case. "That has only been done once before and is, I believe, a very potent weapon."

Mendel went on to say that he wasn't as thrilled with the amount they were awarded.

"That number is almost absurdly low," he said.

Previously Antigua relied almost entirely on tourism but the gambling industry is now a major part of the economy. Antigua has been in discussions with the WTO regarding the U.S. stance on online gambling since 2003.

Earlier this week the EU, which was also claiming billion dollar losses due to U.S. online gambling law, settled with the U.S. for new trade opportunities in several sectors.

Earlier this year the U.S. announced it was changing its trade rules to remove gambling services from WTO jurisdiction. Washington has already agreed to deals with Canada and Japan to change the treaty but several other nations, including Antigua, have not signed on board.

Mendel mentioned several times that ignoring copyright protection is really Antigua's last resort and they hope it doesn't come to that. First and foremost Antigua would like to restore their burgeoning online gambling operations.

"$21 million a year in intellectual property rights suspension going forward indefinitely is not such a bad asset to have," he said. "I hope the U.S. government will now see the wisdom in reaching some accommodation with Antigua over this dispute and look forward to seeing efforts in this regard."

In response to the arbitrator's decision the U.S. has requested Antigua hold off on imposing sanctions authorized by the WTO until Washington can revise its commitments to the organization.

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