ST JOHN’S, Antigua — The government of Antigua and Barbuda is considering several options as it determines how to proceed further in its dispute with the United States at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over internet gaming.
The government has assembled a team, under the leadership of Minister of Finance and the Economy Harold Lovell, to handle the case and to see it through to its conclusion.
The team includes veteran lawyer Mark Mendel, who has handled the legal aspects of the case since its inception, as well as Ambassador Colin Murdoch, permanent secretary in the Department of Trade Industry and Commerce; the Director of Offshore Gaming, Kaye McDonald; as well as consultants with expertise in international trade.
As part of its new approach, the government had approached the director-general of the WTO Pascal Lamy with a view to having a mediation effort launched under his auspices. It was hoped that the mediation effort would assist in re-launching the negotiations and removing the logjam that had caused the case to drag on for a number of years.
Lamy responded cautiously to the proposal, while he was awaiting a substantive response from the United States, as they would have to agree before the mediation effort could begin.
The Antigua government held further discussions earlier in July with the WTO director-general in Geneva in order to clarify certain issues relating to the mediation process. Murdoch, who led those discussions, came away with the view that the office of the WTO director-general was engaged in a genuine effort to be helpful in a difficult case that had pitted the world’s largest economy against one of the world’s smallest.
It has been acknowledged by many experts and scholars in the field that cross-sectoral retaliation, as awarded by the dispute settlement panel in this case, may not be the most effective way to achieve an equitable settlement in cases where there is a great disparity in economic power between both sides.
“Mr Lamy appeared keen to preserve the legitimacy of the WTO dispute settlement system and to have the WTO play a positive role in the outcome,” noted Murdoch. “It remains to be seen whether the US will agree that an impartial voice in the room, not beholden to either side, can bring value-added to the process.”
Although the Antigua government has approached the WTO regarding mediation of the dispute, it has not ruled out further direct negotiations with the US, if these negotiations appear likely to yield an equitable result.
It is anticipated that further discussions between Antigua and Barbuda and the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in Washington DC will take place in the coming weeks.