US Antigua decision a snub to WTO

The United States last week decided to withdraw from one of its WTO commitments after it finally lost its battle with Antigua and Barbuda over on-line gambling. The decision has evoked a storm of outrage and concern.

“We did not intend and do not intend to have gambling as part of our services agreement,“ said Deputy US Trade Representative John K. Veroneau. “What we are doing is just clarifying our commitments.“

The WTO treaty allows a country to withdraw commitments to open its services market to foreign investors, but since the treaty was originally negotiated multilaterally (as with all WTO treaties) the US will now have to negotiate with any of the other 149 member countries that objects to the move and wants to renegotiate any of their own commitments in return.

Senior officials in Antigua and Barbuda were taken aback by the decision. “While we had of course been aware of the possibility of the United States taking such an action, we frankly considered it extremely unlikely,“ said Dr Errol Cort, Antigua’s Minister for Finance and the Economy. “It is almost incomprehensible that the United States would take such an action in the face of an adverse dispute resolution ruling. This is going to have very severe consequences for the global free trade movement.“

Mark Mendel, Antigua’s lead counsel in the WTO proceedings, said that the US was wrong to say that it didn’t intend to include gaming in its services commitments: “There is simply no basis for such a statement. When the schedules were drawn up over ten years ago, there was extensive debate, proposal and counterproposal from all WTO members in determining what commitments would be made. More than a dozen countries were able to expressly exclude gambling from their commitments, and many dozens more excluded the commitment in other ways. For the United States to say this was a mistake is just not true.“

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