ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, CMC – The Antigua and Barbuda government says it is considering several options as it determines how to proceed further in its dispute with the United States at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over internet gaming.
The Baldwin Spencer administration said it has assembled a team, under the leadership of Finance and Economy Minister Harold Lovell, to handle the case and to see it through to its conclusion.
The team also includes veteran lawyer Mark Mendel who has handled the legal aspects of the case since its inception; as well as Ambassador Colin Murdoch, permanent secretary in the Department of Trade Industry & Commerce and the Director of Offshore Gaming, Kaye McDonald.
An official statement said that as part of its new approach, the government has since approached the WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy “with a view to having a mediation effort launched under his auspices.
“It was hoped that the mediation effort would assist in re-launching the negotiations and removing the logjam that had caused the case to drag on for a number of years,” the statement said, noting that “Lamy responded cautiously to the proposal, while he was awaiting a substantive response from the United States, as they would have to agree before the mediation effort could begin”.
The government said that it held further discussions Lamy in Geneva in order to clarify certain issues relating to the mediation process.
“Ambassador Murdoch, who led those discussions, came away with the view that the office of the WTO Director-General was engaged in a genuine effort to be helpful in a difficult case that had pitted the world’s largest economy against one of the world’s smallest,” the statement said.
Murdoch said that Lamp appeared “keen to preserve the legitimacy of the WTO dispute settlement system and to have the WTO play a positive role in the outcome.
“It remains to be seen whether the US will agree that an impartial voice in the room, not beholden to either side, can bring value-added to the process,” he added.
The statement said that although the Spencer government has approached the WTO regarding mediation of the dispute, it has not ruled out further direct negotiations with the US, if these negotiations appeared likely to yield an equitable result.
It is anticipated that further discussions between Antigua and Barbuda and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in Washington DC will take place in the coming weeks.
In April, Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer said Washington has not done enough to settle the long outstanding Internet gaming dispute with Antigua and Barbuda.
Spencer held talks with the US Trade Representative Ron Kirk on the issue, but expressed disappointment that, although the case was first adjudicated in 2003, Antigua and Barbuda and the US are yet to find a "mutually agreeable solution to settle the case".
Spencer said Antigua and Barbuda had put forward several options to settle the case but that "there has been no fairness in the proposals received from the United States to date.
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 lost US$3.4 billion a year due to the US action, but the WTO awarded Antigua US$21 million.