Saturday, May 05, 2007

Our Word is No Good, Says U.S. --- WTO Decision to Be Ignored

Purveyors of unmitigated, hypocritical dishonesty --- that's how the rest of the world must view the United States these days. The latest example of just how terrible our current administration is comes to us courtesy of that much-discussed verdict against the U.S., the World Trade Organization's upholding of a complaint made by Antigua and Barbuda.

Now, since the U.S. has lost every conceivable legal argument it could muster, our government has decided that its own word and signed agreements count for nothing. The U.S. has announced that it's rewriting its initial WTO trade agreements --- and doing so years after the fact --- to state that internet gambling was never intended to be a class of trade covered by treaty.

It's the purest bullshit, you know. The U.S. had the chance to opt out of internet gambling as a trade class over a decade ago and intentionally chose not to. At the time, the U.S. had as much of a chance as anyone to establish itself as a leader in the industry. Other countries saw a growing market and took advantage of it, while the U.S. dithered and pretended.

We've mentioned before that internet gambling is one of the hot-button issues that's likely to define the nature of the Internet, and, in a continuing way, the concepts of freedom and liberty itself. That sounds high and mighty, alrighty, but the truth is that the U.S.'s current actions could, if a worst-case scenario unfolds, cause the dissolution of the WTO itself. Nope, not idle ramblings, either. "I am disappointed to see our country lead a degradation of the system," said James Jochum, a lawyer and former Bush administration official, referring to the announcement.

That's how important all this really is.

As part of its move to rewrite new virtual walls around the U.S., Deputy U.S. Trade Representative John K. Veroneau has announced that the U.S. has conceded the WTO case to Antigua; there weill be no additional appeals. What this means is that Antigua now has the right to seek additional economic sanctions against the U.S., and those include anything up to those abrograted intellectual-property rights mentioned in previous posts. Antigua is now a giant step closer to being granted international rights to make 'pirate' copies of any book or CD or DVD made in the U.S. Software? That's included, too.

Here's how Veroneau describes the U.S.'s soon-to-be modified stance: "U.S. laws banning interstate gambling have been in place for decades. Most WTO Members have similar laws. Unfortunately, in the early 1990s, when the United States was drafting its international commitments to open its market to recreational services, we did not make it clear that these commitments did not extend to gambling. Moreover, back in 1993 no WTO ember could have reasonably thought that the United States was agreeing to commitments in direct conflict with its own laws."

"Neither the United States nor other WTO Members noticed this oversight in the drafting of U.S. commitments until Antigua and Barbuda initiated a WTO case ten years later. In its consideration of this matter, the WTO panel acknowledged that the United States did not intend to adopt commitments that were inconsistent with its own laws. However, under WTO rules, dispute settlement findings must be based on the text of commitments and other international documents, rather than the intent of the party. The United States strongly supports the rules-based trading system and accepts the dispute settlement findings. In light of those findings, we will use WTO procedures for clarifying our commitments."

"Clarifying our commitments," just to tidy things up, means the specific exclusion of Internet-based gambling. Again, remember that Veroneau's historical claims earlier in that quote are simply untrue.

Antigua is now in a unique position. It has the right to demand compensation for the loss of business previously understood to be involved in the WTO's GATS (General Agreement on Tariffs and Services), the specific pact involved. Other nations also have the opportunity to file claims against the U.S. if they are similarly affected, and this could run to many, many billions of dollars. For its part, Veroneau was already politicking on the public stage to the effect that, "since no WTO Member either bargained for or reasonably could have expected the United States to undertake a commitment on gambling, there would be very little, if any, basis for such claims."

In other words, it's the other nations' fault because the U.S. didn't do its job, even assuming that what Veroneau said was true. (Again, it's not.) That defense doesn't work in municipal court fighting traffic tickets, and it's sure as hell not going to fly on the world stage. Slim chance that's going to unfold the way Veroneau and his cronies would hope, meaning that major financial judgmengts would somehow not be awarded to Antigua and other countries. There is no reason for affected nations to not seek major retaliatory judgments against the U.S, and also little reason for the WTO itself not to back such efforts.

Antigua, of course, will be the focal point. The tiny nation has the opportunity to become what the U.S. will surely term a 'rogue state,' in future years, for Antigua will have the chance to set up a pirate industry with the full backing and protection of the WTO. Assuming of course, that Antigua does what's best for Antigua. Antigua's own Finance Minister, Errol Cort, was quick to point out that in this case, it's not likely to go the U.S.'s way without a battle. "We are now reviewing our options," said Cort, "and will be proceeding to use the WTO institutions to get full compensation for our citizens in the event the United States actually pursues this most regrettable action. We would strongly urge the United States to reconsider its decision."

Obviously, the U.S. wouldn't take such moves against its interests without retaliatory measures, which is why the WTO's own existence is now at stake. The U.S. also has its own pending WTO complaint with China over, guess what? Piracy issues. Good luck with that. Were I a Chinese trade official, I'd think about adopting Antigua as a base of operations and opening up a whole batch of software and DVD and CD manufacturing businesses there. Of course --- *nudge* *wink* --- the Chinese Triads would be there first, anyway.

But the saddest part of all of this is that it's so unnecessary. The U.S. is supposed to represent the moral high ground, and in this WTO dispute the U.S. has made it abundantly clear that high morals, honesty and integrity have nothing to do with the U.S. stance. This is about bullying and protectionism, thievery in the name of economic might. And it can be laid nowhere else than the far-conservative right wing of American politics.

That's why this arch-conservative administration and its ilk must be ousted from public life; their values are not the values that this country was founded upon, but are instead a cheap bastardization usurping the flag and country in the name of a spurious Judeo-Christian-state agenda. In case you think differently, bear in mind that Veroneau, the Deputy US Trade Representative, is none other than a former executive assistant to Good Book-thumper Bill Frist, the demagogue who made a mockery of Congress by inserting the UIGEA into unrelated, "must-pass" legislation and passing it in one of the 'Vampire Congress' late-night sessions made famous by this pack of disgraceful Republican politicians.

Mind you, I'm a centrist with strong libertarian values who leans a little bit to the right on a lot of matters. A lot of this is still in the process of unfolding, but it sure seems like to the far right, it's "us" against the world. Unfortunately, "us" equals "U.S." right now; this greater we, the United States, is on a long, unfortunate ride... with a year and a half to go before our next chance to make things right.

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