Lack of the USA cooperation in implementing the ruling of World Trade Organisation in favour of Antigua and Barbuda made the island's government to pursue retaliatory sanctions against U.S. commercial services and intellectual property at a December 17 meeting of the WTO in Geneva.
A long-running dispute between the two countries started in 2003 with the US ban on internet gambling, which the islanders claim is discriminatory, inequitable and contrary to the WTO treaties.
According to Antigua claims, thirteen years ago the economy on the island was flourishing as it was hosting licensed and regulated many internet casino operators, employing some 3000 islanders, and generating around $1 billion in income.
The WTO has ruled that the US was violating trade law by targeting online gambling without equal application of the rules to American operators offering remote betting on horse and dog racing. It has also imposed a retaliation of annual trade sanctions set at $21 million, something in between Antiguan request for $3.4 billion and the United States' bargaining position of $500,000.
As Antigua's Finance Minister Harold Lovell in his comment said: “As a small country, it is not our intention to have a fight with the USA. But we believe that as a sovereign nation we are entitled to all the rights and the protection of the WTO. We believe the time has come having exhausted all other possibilities.”
He added that the US actions against online gambling had been 'devastating', reducing the island's income to 'miniscule' proportions and destroying employment opportunities for some 2,600 islanders. “We have basically been driven over our fiscal cliff .... We feel that we really have had our backs pushed right up against the wall,” said Lovell.
Minister Lovell compared the latest U.S. Trade Representative’s office rejection to have the trade dispute referred to the WTO for arbitration with the recent US complaints on China regarding pirating and fake goods, and its threat to take the Chinese to the WTO dispute resolution panel:
“We believe that the same rules that apply to big countries should be the same rules that apply to small countries. It is very difficult for us to sit back and hear the United States speak about unfair trade practices that are alleged against China... we’ve played by the rules - and yet we have not been able to arrive at a proper conclusion to this matter,” Lovell concluded.