ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Legal advisor to Antigua & Barbuda in the online gambling fight has categorically denied claims by United States representatives that government has been inflexible in arriving at a resolution to the six-year dispute.
In an exclusive interview with OBSERVER Media, Mark Mendel sought to set the record straight.
“One of the most unfortunate things that has happened over the years is that the United States has given the impression that we have been very intransigent and demanding and refusing to compromise … where the opposite is really the truth,” he said.
He added, “I don’t think that we can be held accountable at all. We have been very open and very willing and very, very forthcoming; we have never refused to do anything. Really what they want us to do is drop the case and go away. Win and then lose,” Mendel said.
Last week, the government of Antigua & Barbuda presented a letter to the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) requesting that it put the dispute back on the agenda to be discussed monthly to ensure that the US come into compliance.
In a statement on the WTO website, Antigua & Barbuda asked for assistance in reaching an equitable compromise that would influence the US to comply with the 2007 judgment against it.
In the US’s estimation, according to the WTO, the discussions with Antigua & Barbuda were successful “with the sole exception of Antigua and Barbuda who maintained an objection to the modification in the US schedule. In the US view, the statement by Antigua and Barbuda did not reflect history or reality.”
To that, Mendel responded, “This is particularly misleading … for years we have been trying to negotiate with the US government … We have been fair honest and open and they have been unwilling.” He continued, “It takes two people to negotiate.” Mendel noted over a dozen visits to the United States to remedy the situation, with the US only meeting on island once.
Of particular concern to the attorney, is what he sees as the US government’s continuing illegal interference in Antigua & Barbuda’s gaming industry.
Mendel relayed that the US continues to seize Antiguan & Barbudan bank accounts, interfere with credit card transactions associated with gaming and to criminally indict and prosecute Antiguan-based gaming service providers.
“There is no other WTO member in the world that puts people in jail for conducting lawful trade. It would be like if we put Americans in jail for trying to sell coconuts and pineapples in Antigua … It really is particularly egregious, I think, because we have a very clear decision in our favour saying that we are entitled to do that. Not only are they not really negotiating, but they are continuing to aggressively violate their WTO agreement,” the attorney declared.
Mendel described the US’s behaviour in the matter as a “delaying strategy that has given them the time and ability to destroy the Antiguan (gaming) industry without having to comply.”
In 2007, Antigua & Barbuda applied to the WTO to impose sanctions in the amount of $3 billion a year in efforts to force the US to comply with the verdict.
“We were not joking, we weren’t making that up,” he retorted when asked about the substantial dollar amount.
The Antiguan & Barbudan government arrived at the considerable figure through independent third party statistics.
However, the WTO did not agree with the $3 billion claim, choosing to impose sanctions of $21 million per year.
The United States has not responded to calls for negotiations thus far.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)