Antigua Against the US

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This month the WTO is expected to rule against America for the second time in its trade dispute with the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda.

When America passed The Unlawful Internet Gambling and Enforcement Act last year, it was in the hope of narrowing – if not entirely closing – a loop-hole which allowed on-line gambling sites based overseas to target America custom. The new amendments target not the websites directly, but instead have criminalised money-transfers to offshore gaming websites. It was a new step in a concerted drive which had already seen Antigua’s gambling revenue fall from $1 billion in 2000 to $130 million in 2006. During that period, 10% of Antigua’s workforce lost jobs.

For the Antiguans – whose principal industry has always been tourism, mainly generated from the US – the intervention smacks of back-door Colonialism. A former expeditor of international investments for the Antiguan government commented, “The issue for the United States should not be whether Internet gambling should exit in Antigua or not. Antigua is a sovereign state and isn’t their concern. We are no banana republic.” The Antiguan government has lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organisation, publicly supported by China, Japan, and the European Union, which will be finally settled this month.

There may be a geopolitical dimension to the America-Antiguan wranglings. Relations between Venezuela and the Caribbean island are in rude health. They trade fuel together under the Petrocaribe Agreement, and South America’s largest oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA has a 172,000-barrel supply depot based on the island. In 2006 President Hugo Chavez, that Nemesis of the Bush government, made a donation of US$7.5 million to help upgrade to the V.C. Bird international airport.

This seems not to be the only instance of Antigua’s receiving assistance from America’s enemies. Last month at the signing of a sporting cooperation agreement with Cuba, Youth Affairs and Sport Minister, Winston Williams, expressly thanked Fidel Castro “for his vision and the support given us in areas such as sports, health, public services and road rehabilitation”.

The latest twist in the tale is that America now seems resigned to losing the battle against Antiguan-based gambling sites, and the Antiguans, who’s own gaming laws, are in fact famed for their stringency, have pledged assistance to Britain in regulating the new super casinos. “The regulations that Antigua has in place for online gambling are respected globally and have been a contributing factor in winning the WTO ruling against the US in 2005,” said Antigua’s Director of Gambling, Kaye McDonald.