U.S. trying to squirm out of WTO ruling

The United States' latest effort to try to wriggle out of the ruling against it by the WTO regarding online gambling is drawing criticism from Antigua and Barbuda and the L.A. Times.

Last week a deputy U.S. trade representative announced the U.S. was planning to modify the commitment it made to the World Trade Organization as a way to resolve the case between it and Antigua and Barbuda.

The U.S. committed to open U.S. markets to recreational services when the WTO was formed. Now the U.S. is saying online gambling was never part of that pledge, which would eliminate the WTO's jurisdiction over the issue.

"We did not intend and do not intend to have gambling as part of our services agreement," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John Veroneau said in the Caribbean Net News. "What we are doing is just clarifying our commitments."

According to WTO rules, countries are allowed to withdraw commitments to open their services market to foreign investors.

However, if the U.S. follows through on this course of action, it will have to negotiate with any countries that object to the move and want compensation for the withdrawal.

This would be the first case in the history of the WTO where a country has used this process in response to a lost trade dispute.

Dr. Errol Cort, express his surprise in the Caribbean Net News that the United States would resort to this action because of an "adverse dispute resolution ruling."

"This is going to have very severe consequences for the global free trade movement," he said.

Cort isn't alone in this thought either. Other legal experts have expressed their concern that the U.S.'s move will open the doors for other nations to start withdrawing their commitments as well.

In press release, the U.S. Trade Representative said its action was just meant to correct an "unintended commitment" by the nation.

However, Mark Mandel, Antigua's lead counsel in the WTO case, dismissed that claim saying that there were extensive debates when commitments were being made by nations to the WTO, and more than a dozen countries at the time expressly excluded gambling.

"For the United States to say this was a mistake is just not true," Mendel said in the Caribbean Net News.

He also noted that the original WTO panel that investigated the issue did not determine that the United States had made a mistake in including the commitment.

The United State's decision is also drawing criticism from the L.A. Times which published an editorial on the subject Saturday.

The editorial points out that "the little-used technique might solve the problem with Antigua, but it won't fix the flaws in U.S. policy."

The United States will still have the problem of conflicting policies that allow some forms of online gambling but not others, creating a hypocritical stance by the government.

"A saner approach would be to allow online betting through licensed and regulated operators, as proposed by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee," says the L.A. Times editorial.

It continues on to say that a regulatory approach with its ability to require age-verification standards, standards to detect and block problem gamblers, and taxation with money set aside to treat gambling addiction, would go a lot further to protect the public than prohibition will.

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