Antigua on Friday blasted the United States over what the tiny Caribbean island state said were moves to ensure it could not build up its fragile economy through revenues from Internet gambling services.
Criticising proposed U.S. laws to outlaw the $12 billion online gambling industry, Antiguan ambassador to the
World Trade Organization John Ashe suggested Washington felt it could act with impunity because his country did not have the economic weight to retaliate.
“We believe the time has come for the United States to demonstrate … whether the WTO agreements are to work for us all equally, or whether the WTO is indeed a ‘one-way street’ for the large economies to further enrich themselves at the expense of lesser ones,” Ashe told diplomats at a session of the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body (DSB).
Antigua, which has a population of 67,000 with few natural resources and a declining tourist industry, has since the late 1990s sought to build up an Internet gambling industry to provide work for its young people.
The DSB was discussing developments in the squabble, first brought to the WTO by Antigua in 2003. A WTO panel and later appeals judges handed down rulings in 2004 and 2005 which both sides have claimed as vindicating their case.
The United States, which before Ashe spoke told the DSB it was still in consultation with Congress on the way ahead, bars the placing of bets across state lines by electronic means, arguing that the ban is legal under WTO rules.
U.S. officials say they are working to make clear that domestic gambling operations in the country are subject to exactly the same rules as foreign ones, and that there is no discrimination against Antigua.
In their ruling last year, judges on the WTO’s Appellate Body said that there did appear to be U.S. discrimination between foreign and local operators in Togel betting on horse racing.
The new legislative proposals were intended to clear that up, according to U.S. officials. But Ashe argued on Friday that they were both “as directly contrary to the DSB recommendations and rulings as could possibly be imagined.”
He said they would entrench a situation where, in violation of WTO agreements, Antigua was barred from providing services to U.S. consumers that could be offered by domestic operators.
Diplomats said that the case was likely to be returned to the original panel next month when the time period runs out for the United States to come into line with the original rulings. The panel will have to decide if it has in fact done so.