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No End in Site for WTO Dispute Against U.S.

by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor

                It would appear that there is no end in sight for the Antigua, Barbuda and World Trade Organization’s dispute against the U.S. Last year the WTO’s arbitration panel announced that trade sanctions would be dispersed among the small nations to compensate for U.S. withdrawal from overseas online casinos.  Still, U.S. Trade Representatives are involved in ongoing meetings, discussions and negotiations to avoid resolution, passing many extended deadlines.

                A team of six Americans lead by Deputy US Trade Representative Ambassador John Veroneau, have delayed the process even more, according to Antigua Finance Minister Dr. Errol Cort. Cort told the Antigua Sun that the negotiations might continue for another two to three months, regardless U.S. delegation’s intent to return home on Tuesday. The new set deadline for U.S. compliance is August 1st, the third rescheduling this year. U.S. Trade Reps plan to keep negotiations open for a settlement on the internet casino’s issues. The negotiation timelines set for discussion, however, are much shorter than those set for settlement.

                The U.S. has made previous settlement agreements with Antigua that have gone ignored. Dr. Colt has suggested that the short deadlines are meant to keep the talks productive, but that they were also keeping matters from being resolved in a timely manner. Because several U.S. governmental agencies are involved in the negotiations, the resolution process has been slow and painful for Antigua officials. It is thought by some that the new deadlines are set as a means for the U.S. to continue to shrug off their responsibility to overseas online casinos, and to prevent revenue from leaving America.

                “I am not suggesting for one moment that on August 1st, 2008 the parties would have signed off on an agreement. I won’t want it to be misunderstood and misconstrued that we set these deadlines and we are breaking these deadlines. The deadlines are really set to keep the parties at the negotiating table, but they are not set thinking that on the particular date these issues will be resolved,” said Dr. Colt.

                He also mentioned that at any time during the discussions, either party involved could abandon the negotiation process and request further World Trade Organization arbitration. “If you ask me realistically how much longer I think it would take to really come to some agreement that could be signed off on both sides, to fully flesh out and ventilate the issues on the table, I would say that the period would be perhaps over the next two to three month or so, if I had to put a frame on it,” Dr. Colt continued, “Could it happen before? Yes, it’s possible, depending on how quickly certain inter-agency discussions could take place and some sort of consensus be reached, but practically and realistically, having regard to how governments function.”

                Some feel that the negotiation process might continue for years down the road, based on the progress so far. The U.S. has continued to tap dance around the issue for over a year now, with little to no results seen. In the meantime, offshore online casinos continue to face discriminatory prosecution by the U.S. without consequence.