Antigua to U.S.: Pay up!
Fifteen years ago, tiny Antigua took the United States to the Geneva, Switzerland-based World Trade Organization (WTO) and won a ruling that basically said that moves by the US to shut down the country’s then booming online gaming industry were illegal and Washington should pay hundreds of millions in compensation.
Startled by the mere fact that a country of less than 110,000 people had dared to take the world’s mightiest nation to court and win, the US has outrightly refused to pay Antigua and restore impediments to its online gaming industry which at its peak had employed more than 1,000 people and brought in hundreds of millions annually.
And subsequently, beaten at every stage of the appeals process at the world’s final trade dispute body, Washington has also refused to compensate Antigua to the tune of $21 million per year from 2003 to today. That figure is about $300 million but far way below the billions Antigua was owed in the original ruling.
Now, the administration of Prime Minister Gaston Browne is contemplating approaching the WTO yet again to have it appoint a mediator in a last ditch attempt to solve the issue once and for all. This is despite signals from the US that this case is not on its agenda by any means.
Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua’s envoy to the US, says the island has lost nearly a quarter of its gross domestic product in dollars from the case and wants a final resolution.
“Antigua and Barbuda is now contemplating approaching the director-general under the dispute settlement understanding (DSU) provisions to join in seeking a mediated solution that would bring much needed relief after these arduous 15 years of damage to our economy.”
It is unclear when papers would be filed in this regard, but an editorial in the leading Antigua Observer Newspaper this week gave a brilliant account and summation of the island’s frustration in dealing with the mighty US and its refusal to honor an umbrella trade court ruling just because it lost to a small Eastern Caribbean island nation.
“It is a classic case of ‘wrong and strong’ and ‘might is right.’ For the record, we have always thought that US$21 million per year in penalties was too low. Beyond the fact that we will likely never see that payment, the annual award is a mere fraction of what was taken from us,” the paper said. “Our government has tried everything to coax our ally to live up to its obligations, but successive administrations have ignored our pleas or have been insulting with proposals for settlement. Even when we have bent over backwards to get to a settlement, we have been slapped down like an insolent child. This absolute disdain demonstrated by the US started near immediately and was probably brought on by a variety of factors including the fact that we were so bold to even think about taking the United States to court over the matter. Then to win an award over 40 times what they thought we deserved probably did not help.”
Once the US had put clamps on American-owned online gaming companies based in Antigua, the island’s economy came close to collapse as hundreds of workers were laid off and federal agents indicted many of the Americans who had operated such services.
Today, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma which had almost wiped off sister isle, Barbuda from the map last year, Antigua wants to draw down on the $300 million it is owned from the $21 million annual aware from the WTO dating back to 2003.
Antigua was also allowed to suspend intellectual property right laws as a means of drawing down from the ruling, but the US had threatened massive retaliation if it had in fact done so.
“The US$300 million is a lot of ‘cheese’ and it is rightfully ours. We have suffered for over 15 years because of the hypocritical policies of our ally and we should not walk away. Let us continue to play David to the U.S. Goliath and let us hope that one day we will find the right stone to load into our legal sling while our bullying opponent underestimates our abilities,” the editorial said.