Thursday, 31 January 2013 02:30
By press release
Antigua St. John's - Political Leader of the ALP and Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in Parliament Gaston Browne has spoken out on the position taken by the ruling UPP on the internet gaming dispute between Antigua & Barbuda and the United States of America.
Browne’s statement is as follows:
The Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party is deeply concerned about the collision course with the United States on which the UPP government is taking our country over the Internet Gaming Dispute at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
This collision course is not only with the US government but with several important and wealthy organizations that represent tens of thousands of copyright holders in the United States. These include the National Music Publishers Association, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance that represents seven trade associations, including the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Business Software Alliance.
All of these powerful organisations have indicated publicly through their lawyers that they will retaliate.
In public statements, they have made it clear that they “will work to ensure that Antigua’s eligibility to participate in any US trade assistance or benefit is withdrawn”.
The Labour Party points out that the withdrawal of such assistance will affect every man, woman and child in Antigua & Barbuda. Further, retaliation will not be limited to trade benefits and assistance. It will include ease of travel into the United States, banking relationships including money transfers, and help to institutions such as the coast guard.
Additionally, should the UPP government proceed with any plan not to pay copyright to US copyright holders, the government can expect to be sued in US courts by powerful copyright organisations. Judgements against the government could result in Antigua & Barbuda’s assets in the US being seized, including payments by tour operators and travel agents.
Beyond all of this which is bad enough, Antigua & Barbuda has copyright obligations by binding international treaties apart from the WTO. Among the binding obligations to respect and uphold copyright are those under the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The UPP government would be violating those binding legal obligations should it pursue this ill-advised course of action not to pay copyright to US writers, performers, musicians and so on.
We remind that it was the Labour Party government that took this matter to the WTO because of a duty of care to the hundreds of Antiguans and Barbudans who were employed in the Internet Gaming Industry. It was under the Labour Party that the WTO made its original ruling in favour of Antigua & Barbuda in March 2004.
The Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party makes it clear that the dispute with the United States is legitimate and valid. But we never had a dispute with US citizens who earned the copyright for their work.
Should the UPP proceed, it is not the US government that it will be harming; it will be private citizens who have no quarrel with Antigua & Barbuda.
We also make it clear that, at no time since the UPP came to office, have they consulted in any way whatsoever with the Labour Party on this matter.
We have had to sit on the sidelines while they completely bungled the issue.
In fact, over the last almost 9 years, the UPP has treated with the matter in a non-transparent manner. Neither the people of this country, nor the Labour Party have any notion of what the US has offered in settlement, what the UPP government has demanded, and what has been refused.
What is clear to the Labour Party is that, like so many other vital matters of importance to our country, the UPP government has mishandled and mismanaged this affair and has set us on a course of disaster with the US where thousands of our people live, where we purchase most of our essential goods including medicines, where the majority of our tourists originate, and from whom we derive trade, aid and other benefits.
We are aware that Article XXI of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) provides for negotiated compensation to be paid to Antigua & Barbuda and other affected countries by the US. It was always under the terms of Article XXI that the Labour Party government would have been prepared to reach a negotiated settlement with the US that was fair.
We know that the US has negotiated a full settlement with every other affected country, and that the US Representative to the WTO has stated publicly that “only one single Member, out of the entire WTO membership, will not accept compensatory service concessions. That Member is Antigua”.
Further, the US representative has stated clearly that ‘based on specific requests made by Antigua, The United States has offered real and substantial benefits that would make important contributions to the future development of the Antiguan economy”.
Again, because of the non-transparent manner in which the UPP regime has mangled this matter, neither the people of Antigua & Barbuda nor the Antigua Labour Party have any idea what the US offered and why the UPP regime refused.
What we do know is that the idea of establishing a website to deprive US citizens of their legitimately earned copyright is a very ill-advised project that will cast our nation as a rogue state in the international community with harmful consequences for our people.
We also question how transparent and accountable would be this mechanism for a website to sell US intellectual property without paying copyright. Who does the UPP intend to run the website? Will the financial and administrative arrangements be made known to the people of Antigua & Barbuda? And will the amount of money be made public and paid into the consolidated fund?
In the premise, the Antigua & Barbuda Labour Party rejects this disastrous course on which the UPP seems determined to set our country, and we will hold the UPP responsible for its consequences should they proceed.