Antigua & Online Gaming: Fighting the US Bullies

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/26/2013 12:59:00 PM
The United States likes to throw its weight around the international political economy; that much is obvious. Given the sheer girth of its residents, this is not something to be easily ignored. However, like all bullies, the United States can be put in its place if you stand up and fight for a principle. Don't relent: bloody them up, and they'll soon be crying home to the land of apple pie and Guantanamo Ghraib. The North Vietnamese famously sent the Yanks home for supporting the exceedingly corrupt South Vietnamese leadership. Why should it have taken 58,220 dead Americans to figure out that this was primarily a conflict for Vietnamese independence as opposed to another chip to fall in "domino theory"? A regrettable fact remains that an inordinate number of African-Americans died due to the white man's delusion--as Muhammad Ali said, "No Viet Cong ever called me nig**r." Thankfully, a majority of more pragmatic Americans are not ideologues; they are more interested in commerce. By 1995 despite all that history, the Yanks normalized relations with the folks who had justifiably run them out of where they did not belong since--surprise!--Vietnam was becoming economically dynamic due to its policy of doi moi of opening up to the rest of the world.

This long-winded introduction brings me to another instance of global injustice being perpetuated by the Americans. The long-running case (DS 285) of the twin-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda (Antigua) against the United States over online gambling services was well underway before I started blogging in 2007 [1, 2]. In broad strokes, the United States implemented restrictions that hindered offshore gambling services from plying their trade Stateside. In 2003, Antigua took the United States to the World Trade Organization dispute settlement mechanism (DSM) over these restrictions and won its case. However, instead of complying with the WTO ruling, the US appealed and lost in 2005. Worse still, in 2006 its lawmakers passed the "Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act" (UIGEA) which prohibited offshore gambling services from the US altogether. Antigua once again sued the US at the WTO for non-compliance and won in 2007. However, in the almost six years since then, the United States has failed to meet its WTO commitments to allow online gambling.

What remedies can Antigua resort to? Since 2007, it has effectively had the right to inflict cross-retaliation on the United States over its non-compliance. That is, it obviously cannot retaliate in the same industry since the US does not offer gambling services to Antigua--least of all in an amount equivalent equal to the economic damages caused by the United States' non-compliance with international trade law. (The WTO authorized $21 million annually.) It is generally believed that the US arrived at side deals not made public to prevent Antigua from hitting the US where it hurts most: seeking redress by trespassing on America's beloved intellectual property. (Joe Falchetti has a good summary of the still-ongoing UIGEA saga.) Some things have changed in the US legal sphere, but UIGEA remains active in prohibiting offshore gambling firms alike those headquartered in the Antigua from operating Stateside.

However, I suppose you can only take so much US bullying: Reuters now reports that Antigua is going to notify the WTO that it will cross-retaliate by flouting US copyrights:
The tiny Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda will tell the World Trade Organization on Monday that it intends to use trade sanctions against the United States, which it could enforce by allowing movie downloads without protecting U.S. copyright...Antigua won the right to hit back with trade sanctions and - with little hope of persuading Washington by threatening to block U.S. imports to the nation of 70,000 - it was given permission to use intellectual property instead. 

"American intellectual property rights holders are fighting piracy across the globe. They hate the theft of their intellectual property rights and they spend enormous sums trying to prevent it," Mark Mendel, a lawyer representing Antigua in the case, told Reuters. He declined to say exactly how Antigua might act, but said it could include copyrights, patents or trademarks.
The possibilities are endless for justifiably kicking the Yanks in the balls...of commerce; think for instance of a "WTO legal" torrent site. I relish the thought of...wait for it..."Antiguanoid":
A website that allowed users to download U.S. software or movies without paying anything to the copyright holders was one possibility, as was selling Manchester United T-shirts - the soccer club is owned by the American Glazer family. "If, when, how it's going to happen, people will just have to wait to find out." Although the WTO awarded Antigua the right to impose only $21 million in annual sanctions, Mendel said the size of the award was not an obstacle.

If Antigua were to begin a state-sponsored website to download Hollywood movies and U.S.-made computer software, it could still inflict a lot of damage on U.S. rights holders. "When you think about it, $21 million could be all accomplished in one go or in 50 million goes. The dollar figure is not important," he said. Asked if a site charging one cent per download would be a way to accomplish Antigua's aims, he said: "That is an intellectual possibility..." 
Could there even be a "domino theory" of more poor countries getting back at the big, bad US of A this way? Antigua's lawyer (American) Mark Mendel thinks so:
The United States should be worried about other WTO members following Antigua and using the same tactic to get their way in trade disputes, Mendel said. "If they aren't worried enough about Antigua they should be worried about someone else coming along. If we do something inventive that could pose a lot of problems for intellectual property holders, if we create that precedent, the consequences could be enormous," he said.

"With Antigua, it's $21 million. Maybe with China it's going to be $21 billion," said Mendel. "One of the messages we want to get across is that the WTO was sold to smaller countries as a level playing field and a way for them to expand the reach of commerce, subject to a set of rules that apply to everybody. I think more than anything else this case is about fairness. The WTO is supposed to be fair."
Whether in geopolitics or trade, Americans like to abuse their power and tell you it's fair. I think it's high time the rest of the world stood up to this bullying and roughed up Mickey Mouse and his buddies real good. Even while blatantly cheating at world trade through shenanigans like these, the US economy is on the ropes and it will not take much to do significant harm--which it fully deserves in this case anyway

1/28 UPDATE: Just to show you how the US tries to take advantage of other nations in trade, the USTR is offering Antigua a lousy $10 million one-off settlement (without presumably allowing onling gaming as is the Caribbean nation's due) when the WTO said Antigua is entitled to $21 million annually for as long as the United States does not allow Antigua to offer online gambling Stateside. Again, why should anyone have to put up with this AmeriCrap after being bamboozled for years and years into not applying these sanctions? 
Antigua & Barbuda is unwilling to consider any monetary settlement below US $21 million annually to end the gaming dispute with the US, according to Finance Minister Harold Lovell. Lovell said a one off US $10 million settlement, which was once put on the table by the US to end the gaming dispute between the two countries, was far off the mark.

“At one time there was a figure of US $10 million that was mentioned by the US and there was a possibility, there probably would have been the possibility of getting US $10 million but here we have an award for US $21 million annually,” said Lovell.
As the Gilbert & Sullivan ditty goes, let the punishment fit the crime--hit America with $21 million worth of cross-retaliation--and make it hurt real, real bad by hitting them real hard. Intellectual property is certainly a good target to aim for. Remember, these are the same folks who hounded a 26-year-old Internet activist to his death via suicide. If you allow them to get away with such a--holic behaviour, the Yankee trade jerks will be more than happy to oblige, so you might as well aim for a knockout blow after having abused you year in and year out for nearly a decade.