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Bird decries WTO ruling

Friday April 08 2005

by Natlie S. Fleming

Former Prime Minister Lester Bird said the ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a "cosmetic one" for the twin -island destination describing it as "pyrrhic."

Bird begged to differ with reports that the country had won the Internet gaming case against the WTO.

"You cannot implement anything or prevent the US Congress or otherwise from protecting itself from Internet gaming from overseas. So in fact, we have lost the essence of the case and now when you add that to the fact that Income Tax has now been re-introduced in Antigua & Barbuda - the country is no longer a tax haven. And the reality is our offshore gaming industry has just now been wiped out and decimated."

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Antigua & Barbuda's Finance Minster Dr. Errol Cort yesterday described the ruling of the WTO as an "important one" and a victory for Antigua & Barbuda noting employment in the gaming industry would see an increase.

The former prime minister has a different view.

"The reality is we substantively lost the case even though cosmetically it appears that they have ruled that the US did say it would adhere to GATT rules, but they did not go further to say that the US is stopped from preventing the things from coming in and they did not indicate that the US Congress can be prevented from passing the laws to block it because on the basis of good order and morality and the protection of its own industry they did not make any findings or determination that must be done.

"Now if that is not a loss I don"t know what is because the US is about to pass a law to prevent offshore gaming from going on so we have substantively lost the case.

"Effectively, the US has won the case and they will not be forced or directed by the WTO to permit Antigua & Barbuda or any other jurisdiction to allow Internet gaming from offshore to come into the United States.

"And so although on a general principle they have indicated that US did in fact agree to have GATT rule apply, even though the rules may apply it does not take away the right of the US on the basis of morality etc., to protect its people from the offshore gaming," Bird explained.

"Now I just wish to say that had they not gotten into an attempt to settle this dispute with the US and take the initial win we would not have had this situation because they would have an opportunity to develop all these new arguments that they developed.

"We should have gone after them and this notion of speaking with low level people instead of carrying out what the WTO had ruled originally, it allowed the United States to garner support and also to be able to create the new arguments about the morality."

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