Following Antigua's announced intention
to develop a online store using its ability to suspend copyright payments to the US awarded as part of a World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling, US spokesperson Nkenge Harmon warned the island nation that the move would "authorize the theft of intellectual property" and the US and its copyright holders would not tolerate the move.
Antigua's online gambling industry employed more than 4,000 people and was worth $3.4 billion to the economy. It has contracted to less than 500 people and a small fraction of the economic gain because of US online gambling laws that prohibit citizens from accessing the sites.
In 2005, the WTO ruled a US law to allow only domestic countries to provide online gambling services discriminated against foreign countries, such as Antigua, offering gambling options. The US refused to change the law, so the WTO awarded Antigua the right to waive intellectual property rights payments on $21 million of US goods annually.
"The United States has urged Antigua to consider solutions that would benefit its broader economy. However, Antigua has repeatedly stymied these negotiations with certain unrealistic demands," continued Harmon. "Government-authorized piracy would undermine chances for a settlement. It also would serve as a major impediment to foreign investment in the Antiguan economy, particularly in high-tech industries."
Antigua's Finance Minister Harold Lovell said in a statement that "the economy of Antigua and Barbuda has been devastated by the United States government's long campaign to prevent American consumers from gambling on-line with offshore gaming operators. We once again ask the United States of America to act in accordance with the WTO's decisions in this matter."
Antiguan attorney Mark Mendel claims that "the Americans never negotiated with us. That's the thing about what they say that makes us so upset." Antigua has tried to reach a negotiated settlement with the US for five years, and has failed to come to an agreement.