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US BEATEN AGAIN ... Victory to Antigua in WTO appeal

Friday April 08 2005

by Eucelia Hill

Antigua & Barbuda overcame the US to win a favourable ruling from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the cross-border gaming dispute that has been ongoing for well over a year.

This is the second victory over the US, with Antigua & Barbuda succeeding in the WTO Disciplinary Panel proceedings last year. The US appealed the ruling, but failed to find favour with the WTO Appelate Body.

Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry of Finance, a pleased but restrained Dr. Cort explained that in the end, the US legal team was unable to convince the Appellate Body that the Wire Act, the Illegal Gambling Business Act and the Travel Act did not discriminate against Antigua & Barbuda in the area of Internet gaming.

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These US laws, according to the minister of finance, were created on moralistic grounds "to protect the US public morals and maintain public order," but "the US was not able to demonstrate that it acted in a manner which did not discriminate against other persons coming into its market."

Reading an extract from the "Finds and Conclusions' of the 127-page report which was handed to Antiguan officials early yesterday morning, Dr. Cort said, "The Appellate Body recommends that the Dispute Settlement Body request the United States to bring its measures, found in this report and in the panel report as modified by this report, to be inconsistent with the General Agreement on Trade and Services into conformity with its obligations under that agreement. So therefore the Appellate Body is asking the US to bring its laws into conformity based on the findings."

The next step will be the adoption of the report at the dispute settlement body at a meeting slated for 19 April.

"Once the report has been adopted Antigua & Barbuda will then meet with the US to work out the necessary modalities to ensure that compliance is met with the ruling as found by the Appellate Body of the WTO," the minister said.

Dr. Cort noted that the ruling clearly showed that a small island state was able to "successfully challenge a giant like the US.

"It says to all of us that this rules-based system is working and we commend the WTO in respect of the rules-based system of dispute resolution," he said.

Dr. Cort predicted that the ruling would help to jump-start the industry into a "very vibrant and growing Internet gaming sector." He further indicated that there was "strong interest" received from gaming companies to set up business in this jurisdiction.

"The immediate implication is that all those young persons out there in the community who may wish to be employed will find employment because we anticipate that this sector will be growing in leaps and bounds."

Before the advent of the US laws, the sector employed over 3,000 people, but it has dwindled to about 300.

When asked if he had heard a response from the US or the other countries that had participated in the hearing as third parties, Dr. Cort said he had not received official word from them from either group, but reiterated that "we have won and we will continue our friendship (with the US), nevertheless this victory must be adhered to and the US must abide by it."

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