US warns of consequences as Antigua gets WTO OK

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The US government on Monday warned of economic consequences after Antigua & Barbuda got World Trade Organisation (WTO) approval to ignore US intellectual property rights to the tune of US $21 million annually.

“Government-authorised piracy would undermine chances for a settlement,” in the internet gambling case,” said Nkenge Harmon, a spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative’s office.

“It also would serve as a major impediment to foreign investment in the Antiguan economy, particularly in high-tech industries,” Harmon said.

Antigua was first given the retaliatory right by a ruling of the WTO dispute settlement board in 2007, but chose to suspend the right pending negotiations.

On Monday the country asked the WTO to activate the measure.

Dr McChesney Emanuel, Chairman of the Antigua & Barbuda Investment Authority, said the US should stop trying to intimidate the country.

“The United States has indicated there could be possible adverse consequences for Antigua and its citizens for resorting to this WTO-sponsored remedy.

“We assume this is just rhetoric for public consumption, and we look forward to the United States putting aside these tactics and focusing their future efforts on thoughtful negotiation rather than on hyperbole and intimidation,” said Emanuel.

Antigua & Barbuda went to the WTO in 2003 when the US began blocking its citizens from using internet gaming services based in the twin-island state.

The WTO ruled the US was in contravention to its obligations under the WTO treaty known as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS).

The WTO however can not force the US to honour the agreement and so instead allowed Antigua & Barbuda to hit back by ignoring US intellectual property rights.

High Commissioner to the UK Carl Roberts delivered the address to the WTO on Monday. He said he strongly rejected US accusations of piracy.

“To accuse our country of somehow being an international outlier by doing what the rules provide we can do, while at the same time confiscating the money of our operators held in global accounts and subjecting our operators to prison terms under laws held inconsistent with the GATS pretty much beggars belief,” said Roberts.

“We consider this rhetoric and these particularly inflammatory and clearly false accusations to be inappropriate, unhelpful and wrong, and we would call again on the United States to cease these very unfortunate references and acknowledge that our little country is doing precisely what it has earned the right to do under international agreements,” he added.

The High Commissioner said during the last five years of negotiations the US has never showed any real intention of reaching a solution in negotiations.

The government has stressed that if and when Antigua does take action against US intellectual property holders, it will be done in accordance with international law and under strict government supervision.

Roberts also assured the WTO that, “before we act on the suspension of concessions and other obligations, we will provide the Secretariat with reasonable details on what we are to do and how we are to do it.”

The gaming sector once employed over 4,000 people in the country but today employs less than 400.

(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)