Antigua Anticipates Favorable Ruling on Trade Issue - Saturday 12th of March 2005

The small nation of Antigua and Barbuda is anticipating the proverbial "David versus Goliath scenario" come April 7, when the World Trade Organization's trade ruling is announced.

If the original November 2004 WTO ruling is upheld, the U.S. will face compliance issues requiring the U.S. government to address in a reasoned fashion its approach to online gaming rather than simply prohibiting it altogether.

"Most important will be the validation of Antiguan businesses' right to trade with the large US internet gaming market," explained Ron Maginley, spokesman for the Antigua Offshore Gaming Association, an industry trade group, in a statement yesterday.

"Antigua is confident in the professionalism of its operators and asks only for fair and reasonable access to the immense United States domestic gambling market."

Antiguan officials anticipate that major U.S. companies, including Citibank, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, Clear Channel Communication, and Bravo TV, may soon find themselves required to comply with the WTO ruling legitimizing trade between Antiguan online gaming companies and the U.S. market.

In recent years, many American companies have turned away business from Antiguan gambling companies after receiving subpoenas or threats of prosecution from the U.S. Justice Department and prosecutors such as New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer.

Following the November 2004 announcement of Antigua's win before a WTO panel, the United States in January appealed the adverse ruling to the seven-member Appellate Body of the WTO. The hearing before the Appellate Body is seen by Antiguans as a "final hurdle in a lengthy and unprecedented legal battle," explained Mark Mendel, the lead legal counsel for Antigua in the dispute.

"Despite intense skepticism from virtually every quarter, our case is extremely strong and deceptively simple," added Mendel. "We have long been optimistic that the impartial dispute resolution machinery of the WTO would function as expected, justice will be served and potential compliance issues facing various US corporations and the US Department of Justice will be resolved in a manner which is favorable to fair and responsible international commerce."

The Antiguans have argued that it is inappropriate to treat businesses conducting transactions online as unequal to or somehow worse than traditional brick-and-mortar operations, or for the US government to assume lack of industry integrity without any objective evidence.
Mendel predicted that a decision to uphold the original WTO ruling will ultimately result in US companies making accommodations to Antiguan gambling operators.

"At the end of the day," said Mendel, "We expect major internet search engines, including Google and Yahoo, financial institutions and credit card service providers will have to do business with Antiguan internet gaming sites on the same basis as they do with US domestic gaming interests, including hundreds of American casinos, prolific state lotteries and many others."

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