Group sues government for settlement info

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An organization called Public Citizen filed a lawsuit on Monday to get the United States to release details of the concessions it made to other nations to settle its online gambling dispute being handled by the World Trade Organization.

Public Citizen contends that President George W. Bush's administration is illegally withholding details of its agreement with the European Union, which gives the European Union access to more business sectors in the United States as compensation for the country closing off its borders to online gambling.

"Americans have a right to know what kinds of trade concessions the U.S. government is granting other countries, especially when those deals have a significant impact on domestic policy and may be worth billions of dollars," said Bonnie I. Robin-Vergeer, a Public Citizen attorney.

"The Bush administration's decision to withhold the agreement under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has more to do with its desire to prevent public and congressional scrutiny of the settlement before it is enshrined in a new WTO schedule than it does with national security. FOIA requires the agreement's release."

In 2007, the WTO authorized Antigua and Barbuda to impose trade sanctions against the United States because it hadn't brought its online gambling laws into compliance with WTO trade regulations. The United States bans online gambling, except for horse-race betting and state lotteries, which violates the fair-trade policies imposed by the WTO.

Faced with sanctions from Antigua, the United States announced it was going to remove the online gambling sector from its WTO agreement. However, that meant the U.S. must negotiate with other countries involved in that industry for the loss of business.

Deals have been reached with the European Union and other countries, but details of the agreements haven't been released.

The only information given is that the concessions are in "warehousing services, technical testing services, research and development services and postal services relating to outbound international letters."

According to Public Citizen, those concessions also put those service sectors under the WTO's authority, which would constrain U.S. federal, state and local government's ability to regulate the sectors. They also expose existing and future domestic policies in these sectors to challenge before WTO tribunals.

Earlier this year journalist Ed Brayton filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get the full details of the settlement. However, the U.S. Trade Representative denied the release of the information, citing national security as its reasoning.

Public Citizen is now representing Brayton in a lawsuit to get the trade agreement details released.

They aren't the only ones concerned with the details of the trade concessions. Representatives Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) joined forces in late March to send a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab requesting the information be released as well.

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