EDITORIAL: Here we go again

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It has been reported that Antigua and Barbuda will contemplate a request to the Director-General of the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to seek a mediator in our dispute with the United States of America regarding gaming.  You know, that pesky little case we began in 2003 when the big, bad U.S.A. decimated our gaming industry by reneging on their trade commitments to the world and instituting  a prohibition on cross-border gambling services.  Well, we are 15 years on and there is still no resolution in sight.  
As it sits right now, we are owed over US$300 million and the United States government appears to have no appetite to do the right thing and pay us our money.   How did we get to that big number?  Well, the WTO awarded us US$21 million per year until the U.S. fixed their wrong.  The problem is, the United States has no intention of fixing the wrong and they know that we are near powerless to do anything about it because of our size.  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.  
At one point, our offshore gaming businesses were thriving and employment from the sector stood at over 1,000.  The gaming companies typically paid premium wages and hired a good many of our young people.  All that changed when the United States took a hypocritical stand against online gaming and essentially made it illegal for companies to solicit business in the U.S.A.  Payment processors were squeezed to terminate business with the offshore companies and legal action was taken against various license holders.  Meanwhile, gambling flourished in the United States and ridiculous arguments about morality, etc. were tossed into the media as the propaganda war started.  
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 United States 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.  
Immediately upon winning the lower award, the U.S. gloated. Sean Spicer, a spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab said at the time, “The United States is pleased that the figure arrived at by the arbitrator is over 100 times lower than Antigua’s claim.”  We had asked for US$3.44 billion.  Then, when it came to Antigua’s ability and rights to suspend U.S. intellectual property rights (which were part of the WTO award) the United States issued a number of very overt threats.  ‘Do it at your own peril’ was the general message delivered and received.
Any right thinking person can see this for what it is.  Antigua has been wronged and we have gone to court and won.  The United States has decided that there is no need to pay for its wrongdoing because the options available to tiny Antigua will cause more harm to us than it will to the U.S.  So we are left to pursue any option other than the suspension of U.S. intellectual property rights which was a remedy granted to us by the WTO.  How messed up is that?  The latest rabbit hole is mediation which we doubt will produce anything tangible.  
That said, we are happy that the government has not simply given up.  After being battered and bruised at every turn, it would be the easy thing to do and many have said that we should just forget about it and move on.
However, 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.
While we are thinking out loud, did you know that the White House is estimated to be worth around US$400 million?  Maybe in a few more years, we can apply to have it sold to 
pay the debt.  Just the thought brings smiles to our faces.  Impossible, we know, but we can dream, can’t we?!?
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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