Antigua: Governments criticized for talks with USA on Internet gambling dispute BBC Monitoring Service - United Kingdom; Nov 02, 2004
on 1 November St John`s, Antigua: Former Antigua and Barbuda diplomat Sir Ronald Sanders has accused successive governments of bending "backwards" to be helpful to the United States in the dispute between the two countries over Internet gaming.
Sir Ronald, who, until March this year, led the island`s case at the World Trade Organization (WTO), disagreed with the recent position adopted by the Baldwin Spencer administration in holding talks with Washington on the issue.
"Antigua and Barbuda has already won the case. The US has lost it. The WTO panel, which heard the arguments and issued a report to the two parties, recommended that the US be requested by the WTO to bring its offending measures into conformity with US obligations under the GATS [General Agreement on Trade in Services]."
"The negotiations in St John`s indicated that there was a willingness by Antigua and Barbuda to reach an agreed settlement with the US despite the fact that it had no obligation to do so," he said.
At the end of the talks last week, Finance Minister Dr Errol Cort said Washington would be given 10 days notice of Antigua and Barbuda`s intention to release a favourable report on the dispute between them regarding Internet gaming services.
Dr Cort said he "has triggered the process that will ultimately lead to the release of the final report", which has been held in abeyance for the last four months.
He said, during that time period, both the Antigua and US governments "explored and fully exhausted every possible opportunity to reach a mutually-agreeable resolution to our dispute with the United States".
The latest attempt was a meeting in Antigua this week, which failed to come up with a compromise. "We held five face-to-face meetings with various branches of the US government but, ultimately, we concluded that the elements necessary for an amicable resolution would not be forthcoming at this time from the United States," Dr Cort added.
Harold Lovell, Antigua and Barbuda`s minister of foreign affairs, expressed "disappointment" with the US stance. "It comes as something of a bit of disappointment for us. Our delegation presented a number of proposals for the US` consideration but, sadly, they were not prepared to accept them," he said.
"What they offered as an alternative was not acceptable to us." Sir Ronald told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) [this agency] that, under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), the United States had to provide market access and national treatment to the cross-border supply of foreign services that come within the category of "other recreational services".
"On a proper legal interpretation, this category includes gambling and betting services. Yet, while many US operators are allowed to offer gambling services in the US, [the] US authorities take the view that all gaming services offered on a cross-border basis from abroad, including Antigua and Barbuda, are unlawful."
He said that Washington enforces this claim administratively by blocking credit-card transactions and penalizing credit-card companies and banks that facilitate them, and by punishing US persons and others who own gaming entities that provide services to US residents.
"These actions by the US amount to violations of its GATS commitment. They effectively prohibit all supply of gambling and betting services from Antigua to the US and have adversely affected this sector of the country`s e-commerce business."
Sir Ronald said: "This blanket ban is precisely what Antigua and Barbuda complained to the WTO about and succeeded in getting a panel report upholding its position".
"It should be noted that the previous government of Antigua and Barbuda had already held consultations with the US prior to taking the matter to the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the WTO. But, at those consultations, instead of trying to negotiate a settlement, the US made it clear that it would not change its laws on Internet gaming."
"Its representatives also drew links between Internet gaming and crime, particularly money laundering," he added. Sir Ronald said the former Lester Bird administration had offered to allow the US to examine its regulatory machinery for Internet gaming, and to make any changes that would make the US comfortable but noted "the US showed no interest in the offer".
"It was only after these consultations showed no sign of progress that Antigua and Barbuda finally took the matter to the DSB of the WTO."
Referring to the talks held here last week, Sir Ronald said that media reports had indicated that Washington would have sent a "high-level" delegation but instead "a technical delegation that had already been involved in the WTO process was what arrived in St John`s plus the US Ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean".
"This was not a delegation that could negotiate outside of its brief and it would be surprising if the US delegation took any different position during the negotiations held in Antigua than it had in the WTO process."
"Judging from the fact that Foreign Minister Lovell expressed "disappointment" with the talks, and Finance Minister Dr Errol Cort has announced that Antigua and Barbuda will now be asking for the panel report to go forward, my assumption is that the US did not change its fundamental position," Sir Ronald said.
He said once the Spencer administration asks that the panel report be sent to the DSB, it would be a few weeks before this actually happens.
"It can be expected that the US will appeal [against] the panel decision but it can only do so on certain technical grounds and the essential findings of the report will not change. Even after the panel pronounces on the US appeal, it will be several months before the DSB makes a binding recommendation to the US."
"During this process, every attempt will be made by the US for further procedural delays. This is normal. But, it emphasizes why Antigua and Barbuda is right to move forward with the panel report as swiftly as the WTO procedures will allow," he added.
Source: Caribbean Media Corporation news agency, Bridgetown, in English 2041 gmt 1 Nov 04