Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Antigua to Pursue Compensation from U.S. in WTO Dispute

The United States acted as expected earlier this week in the matter of its ongoing World Trade Organization dispute with Antigua. Or rather, the United States, as expected, failed to act. As previously announced, the United States followed through on its recently announced decision to not file a final appeal in the decision that's gone Antigua's way at every step in the process.

The U.S.'s latest attempt to back out of the whole mess is to deny its own GATS [General Agreement on Tariffs and Services] agreements, claiming that the last 13 years never really happened. For honesty, this approach ranks right up there with the 'it was all a dream' season of 'Dallas,' or that wretched year of 'The Dukes of Hazzard' that featured Byron Cherry and Christopher as Coy and Vance, Bo and Luke's cousins, taking over those alpha-male Duke Boys roles while Tom Wopat and John Schneider held out for more pay.

Maybe the U.S. is treating the whole WTO thing as a 'high-concept' experiment, anyway.

More seriously, though, the U.S. thinks that it can give a fluttery wave of the hand to Antigua and the WTO and this whole matter will disappear. The joke's on the U.S., it seems; it's not going to work out that way, since Antigua quickly and stridently announced plans to pursue the United States through all compensatory means possible, including trademark and copyright waivers, telecommunications-industry levies, and more. Antigua also issued an open invitation to all WTO countries to join it in its battle against the United States, and is pleading for outside assistance to make it a fair fight.

Here's what Antiguan Ambassador John Ashe had to say on the matter: "Not only do we think that members should press claims for compensatory adjustments as a matter of economic self-interest, but we also believe it is important that the process is made as difficult as possible for the United States."

It is highly likely that a lot of countries will take up Antigua's offer, most importantly the U.K. I hope these countries kick our collected American asses 'til our asses are purple and green and chartreuse and whatever other colors you can imagine. God, we as Americans need this wake-up call, as much to wrest our country from the narrow minority of religious zealots who are calling the shots right now as anything else.

Several experts are now citing this struggle as having the potential to develop into the most important matter in the WTO's 13-year history. We're not pretending to be experts here, but this blog did note several months back that this case had the potential to help define the Internet and certain human freedoms itself... and it sure looks like it's going to unfold that way.

Basically, there's two ways this thing could go. One is that there's no give anywhere, and the U.S. will continue to lose decision after decision, judgment after WTO judgment, but refuse to modify its laws and/or pay up as ordered and simply force the WTO to shred itself into inconsequentiality. The impact this would have on international trade would be measured in trillions of dollars, not billions; it could, in a worst-case scenario, set the world economy back by years. The second route is that big business finally wakes up and understands that there's a lot more than gambling dollars at stake.

There's only one thing that trumps the collective might of the nut-case, religious right in Washington D.C. these days, and that's the muscle of the Fortune 500. No other force has the power to right the wrongs that the Bush administration's trade representatives are trying to foist upon the world.

Were I big business, I'd start having interest in this WTO trade dispute just about... now. All of a sudden, it's not just about gambling any more. There are hundreds of billion-dollar American companies who stand to be negatively impacted by the WTO decisions that are sure to unfold in the months ahead. Kyl and Goodlatte might have been cackling when the UK gambling stocks lost billions, but it's likely that they're not doing so any longer. This baby's gonna come home to roost.

On a different aspect, one of the biggest disappointments to date is that there has not been one handicapped, home-bound poker player willing to seek an injunction against the UIGEA on discriminatory grounds. I'd have to think that a lot of online sites would be only to happy to contribute to such a legal effort, were they approached.

And where the hell is the PPA? Al D'Amato mentioned a similar thought in his coronation address, but has there been any action yet? There's just about 500,000 members of the PPA these days --- it seems inconceivable that somewhere in that mass there's not a single soul who could qualify to file for the injunction as described above. The point is to put that UIGEA on a shelf somewhere, inactive, until it can be re-written by the next group of legislators, who might not be any better but simple cannot be any worse than this 'Nadir of Congressional History' pack that passed the law in the first place.

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