WTO again: Antigua hints at taking the United States back to WTO

“The United States, being a very heavy user of the WTO rules to its own benefit”, said Mark Mendel, legal counsel in World Trade Organization.

WASHINGTON, CMC – Antigua’s American-born legal counsel in World Trade Organization (WTO) matters, Mark Mendel, says the United States may have opened itself up to a new challenge when it shut down certain offshore Internet gambling sites last Friday.

“The WTO ruled that these kinds of laws criminalizing the provision of remote gaming services are contrary to the obligations of the United States under the WTO agreements,” said Mendel, in a statement issued here.

“The United States, being a very heavy user of the WTO rules to its own benefit, simply cannot continue to prosecute persons for engaging in legitimate international commerce,” he added.

“Given the time that has been spent by the Antiguan government on sincere attempts to negotiate a reasonable settlement with the United States, and the very eager results that have come of those discussions, it might be time for Antigua to go back to the WTO and compel American compliance with the rulings that this very small country fought so hard for and deserves to see implemented,” he continued.

Observing recent initiatives to authorize remote gaming in various American states and the proliferation of state-sanctioned gambling in America generally, Mendel said “what the United States has attempted to cloak as a moral issue is now clearly nothing but economic protectionism at its worst.

“Rather than engaging with Antigua and the world gaming community to reach a reasonable accommodation on this relatively new but now globalised form of economic commerce, the United States has instead determined to protect its domestic gaming interests regardless of international legal obligations,” he said.

“This is very hard to reconcile not only with its pronouncements regarding the imperative of other countries to strictly observe their WTO trade obligations but also with stated official United States government policy of adherence to the rule of law,” he added.

Antiguan officials, who license Absolute Poker, among other Internet gambling companies, say they are considering bringing an action against the US before the WTO for discriminatory trade practices.

Reacting to last week’s indictments of a number of individuals allegedly behind prominent Internet poker operators, the Antigua Minister for Finance and the Economy, Harold Lovell, expressed disappointment in the latest effort by US authorities.

“I am concerned that, at this point in time, United States authorities continue to prosecute non-domestic suppliers of remote gaming services in clear contravention of International law,” he said.

“I am not aware of any other situation where a member of the World Trade Organization has subjected persons to criminal prosecution under circumstances where the WTO has expressly ruled that to do so is in breach of an international treaty,” he added.

Having won a “hard-fought dispute” at the WTO against the United States some years ago over laws criminalizing the provision of remote gaming services to American consumers, Lovell said Antigua has spent “considerable time and effort trying to reach a compromise with American authorities.”

He said this effort is aimed at recognizing the legitimacy conferred by the WTO judgment with respect to Antiguan remote gaming services, while addressing any “material concerns United States authorities might have regarding the provision of these services from abroad.”

The Antiguan finance minister said last weeks’ indictments would “seem to indicate that the United States is still unwilling or unable to tackle the issue of offshore remote gaming services in a mature and legally compliant fashion.

“At this time, we are examining all of the options we have against the United States as a result of the WTO decision,” he said.

“We are confident that the WTO rulings have significant strength, and we are now looking into ways to capitalize on that in order to achieve our objectives,” Lovell added.

In 2005, the WTO ruled that the US had violated international trade agreements by prohibiting operation of offshore Internet gambling sites.

Antigua claimed that it has lost US$3.4 billion a year due to the US action, but the WTO ultimately awarded US$21 million in damages against the US.

CMC/11

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