Antigua and Barbuda Needs US i-Gaming Settlement
The island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is facing a crisis in the wake of Hurricane Irma. The massive tropical storm brought utter destruction to the island of Barbuda, to the point that it is completely uninhabitable. While other areas of the Caribbean were also hit by Irma, Barbuda emerged as the worst casualty. And the island nation is now in dire need of assistance from around the world.
In the wake of the disaster, the ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda in Washington, D.C. is urging the United States to finally honor its duty to abide by the World Trade Organization decision regarding online gambling. Ambassador Ronald Sanders says his nation will rebuild but sincerely needs the $270 million that the US has been disputing for more than a decade.
WTO Ruling Favors Antigua and Barbuda
When online gambling sites began launching in the 1990s, many established their servers on Antigua and Barbuda, where they were also issued licenses to operate and abide by regulations. The industry became a prominent part of the nation’s economy, with billions of dollars in revenue generated each year and thousands of people in its employ.
The United States eventually began to prosecute internet gaming operators and crack down on the industry itself, much to the detriment of Antigua and Barbuda. The loss of business due to changes in US law application and enforcement prompted the two-island nation to bring its concerns to US officials due agreement violations. With no response from the US, the World Trade Organization was asked to mediate, and the WTO ruled more than a decade ago that the US should pay Antigua and Barbuda $21 million in damages. When the US failed to respond to that as well, the WTO Dispute Panel ruled against the US again and authorized Antigua and Barbuda to begin imposing trade sanctions.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne recently brought the issue more frequently into the public spotlight, still to no avail. The US offered a fraction of the settlement amount to end the dispute, but Antigua and Barbuda stood its ground, refusing to accept the “regrettably paltry” offer.
Storm Triggers New Need for Settlement
The rain and 185-mile-per-hour winds that destroyed Barbuda brought the worst destruction in its history. The island is uninhabited now, with all residents having been moved to Antigua. While officials maintain that Antigua and Barbuda will try to recover on its own, Browne has been reaching out to international allies for support. The millions of dollars necessary to clean up and rebuild is not within the realm of the small island’s economic capabilities.
With tourism as the main business of Antigua and Barbuda, the situation is even direr. Ambassador Sanders noted that the country is a sovereign nation and has no “godfather” as others in the Caribbean. “We are hoping our neighboring countries can respond.”
Sanders also mentioned to media organizations that this would be an ideal time for the US to honor its WTO obligation and pay the internet gambling fees awarded to Antigua and Barbuda in the sum of close to $270 million. “We are now in this crisis, if ever they want to settle this with us, now is the time,” he said. “We are a small island state, we don’t have the vast territory of the United States, nor the huge infrastructure that you have, but the infrastructure which we have is important to us and to our survival.”
The United States has not been focused on the needs of other nations since the Trump administration came into power, as it has talked a great deal about ending numerous agreements with other countries. The isolationist approach doesn’t bode well for Antigua and Barbuda seeing any of the settlement money from the WTO ruling, especially under a president that views organizations like the WTO as relatively impractical for US needs.
This morning I met with Sir Ronald Michael Sanders, Ambassador from Antigua & Barbuda, to discuss aid for Hurricane Irma damage pic.twitter.com/I32lPaxhWZ
— Albio Sires (@RepSires) September 14, 2017
However, the WTO may increase its efforts to collect on behalf of Antigua and Barbuda due to the latter’s dire need for funds. In addition, Sanders is intensifying his own collection attempts in Washington, as the mere survival of Barbuda depends upon his success.