FINAL CHAPTER IN U.S. VS. ANTIGUA NEGOTIATIONS ?
Key meeting on WTO confrontation this week between top officials
After years of litigation and manoeuvering, an end may be sight this week for the World Trade Organisation dispute over online gambling between the governments of Antigua and Barbuda and the United States. Officials from the two sides are gathering in Washington Friday (23 May 2008) to seek a final resolution.
The move comes as pressure builds on the United States Trade Representative over its unilateral withdrawal of gambling obligations in its WTO agreements, which has led to compensation claims from several member nations, among them the 27 state European Commission.
Actions this year by the European-based Remote Gaming Association and the US-based Public Citizen organisation are questioning the deal between the USTR and EU negotiators and pressing for disclosure of details of the compensation package, whilst the Antiguans have temporarily suspended a WTO arbitration process in the hope of a more amicable agreement with the Americans.
Antiguan Finance Minister Dr. Errol Cort is currently in Washington and will lead his country's delegation at the high level meetings, reports The Antigua Sun newspaper. First prize for the Antiguans at the meeting will be some sort of agreement giving access to the United States online gambling market to companies licensed in the Caribbean jurisdiction.
The Sun reports that earlier this year, the Antiguans submitted a confidential proposal to resolve the issue, and in return received a counter-proposal from the USTR, details of which were not disclosed. The Antigua government rejected the counterproposal, and negotiations resumed, with neither party prepared to comment on the main areas of disagreement.
There is a time constraint on the current negotiations, because the jointly agreed suspension of legal hostilities ends on June 6, after which the WTO action will recommence.
Following this week's Washington meetings, Minister Cort is due to attend the 38th annual gathering of the Caribbean Development Bank in Canada. This is attended by high ranking government ministers from other Caribbean nations, international bankers and representatives of major global organisations who will no doubt be interested in the outcome of the Washington talks.