Thursday, 14 February 2013 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Antigua St. John's - Opposition Leader Gaston Browne has penned two letters to the United States’ Department of State, in which he, among other things, proposed that the US set up a consular office in St John’s to issue American visas.
Browne noted that the US closed its consulate in St John’s many years ago for economic reasons, but his proposal provides a cost effective way for the US to set up “a satellite office” primarily to issue visas to Antiguans and Barbudans, as well as citizens from neighbouring islands.
“The Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party accepts that there are some costs that will be associated in setting up such an office in St John’s, but when we retake the government we will work towards making it a reality,” Browne told Caribarena.com.
He said an ABLP administration would be prepared to share some of the costs involved in the venture. “Such an office will have a limited staff relying on utilizing the latest technologies. For the costs such as rent, we would be prepared to absorb those costs and to provide utilities at a special rate,” he said.
Browne is of the view that the traffic that would be generated by the presence of the consular office in Antigua would more than compensate for the costs the government would bear.
“We are confident that people from the northern Eastern Caribbean, and even some of our neighbours in the south, would use the opportunity to travel to Antigua for their US visas,” he explained. “This would also generate brisk business for people in the guest rooms and small hotels sector. It would also generate business for restaurants and taxi operators.”
He noted that when people travel to a destination even for a short visit, they have to eat, sleep, and be transported from one point to another.
Browne’s second letter addressed the controversial issue of the World Trade Organisation’s ruling in favour of Antigua & Barbuda against the US in the online gaming dispute.
According to Browne, the ABLP is opposed to the stance being adopted by the government where it plans to approve the piracy of copyrighted materials from American companies. Browne said this action is foolhardy.
He said Antigua & Barbuda can instead put a package of programmes to the US to satisfy the US$21 million ruling by the WTO. He added that he is firmly of the view that the fight with the US is being driven by operators in the gaming sector, and not necessarily by the government. He said if the country is not careful, it may find itself in “serious” problems with the US. “The US is easily our most important trading partner and we ought not to jeopardise this relationship,” he cautioned.
The opposition leader explained that the local gaming sector has been able to benefit from the fact that wire or internet gaming is illegal in the US, but that as an industry, this is not sustainable as currently configured.
“The gaming industry in the US is one of the most powerful groups with huge amounts of money to lobby on its behalf in Washington,” Browne said. “This talk that somehow Antigua & Barbuda can pressure the US into changing its anti-online gaming position will not happen.”
According to Browne, the idea that the government will take on the US by facilitating the piracy of copyright materials from companies such as Microsoft will just attract unnecessary lawsuits against the government by these affected companies.
He said the idea that Antigua & Barbuda can “shock and awe” the US into compliance, as suggested by the finance minister, shows that the minister is living in a different world.
“We are in favour of a compromise solution that is acceptable to both countries,” he said. “This is where the idea of a consular office comes in and the possibility for scholarships for US citizens to study at medical schools in Antigua.”
Browne did not indicate what, if any, response has been received regarding his proposals.