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US Debt to Antigua Remains Unpaid after 20 Years

The threat appears not only as a perplexing demand but also raises concerns about the power dynamics at play.

The US debt to Antigua is now over US$400 million, but remains unpaid. In 2003, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled in favour of Antigua and Barbuda, granting them the right to compensation of US$21 million annually. 

This decision stemmed from the United States’ abrupt shutdown of Antigua’s online gambling industry, a move that was deemed a violation of international trade agreements. Over the years, however, the promised compensation has yet to be paid, leaving Antigua in a prolonged state of economic uncertainty.

What happened?

The dispute between Antigua and the United States began when the U.S. implemented strict regulations targeting the online gambling industry, effectively closing down Antiguan-based internet gaming operators that had been providing services to U.S. citizens. 

Antigua argued that such actions violated the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), an international treaty governing trade in services, including online gaming. The WTO sided with Antigua, affirming that the U.S. restrictions were indeed inconsistent with its commitments under GATS. 

As a result, Antigua was granted the right to seek compensation, with an annual cap set at US$21 million. This was intended to offset the economic losses suffered by Antigua’s online gambling sector due to the abrupt U.S. policy shift. 

Despite the WTO’s ruling and the subsequent authorisation for compensation, the United States has not fulfilled its financial obligations to Antigua and Barbuda. 

The failure to pay the agreed-upon annual compensation has left Antigua grappling with the economic fallout of the shuttered online gambling industry, exacerbating the challenges faced by the small island nation. 

Antigua’s economy was heavily supported by revenue generated from online gaming, and the abrupt closure had severe consequences for its workforce and overall economic stability. The compensation awarded by the WTO was seen as a crucial lifeline for Antigua to recover from the economic setback caused by the U.S. actions. However, the non-payment of the awarded amount has prolonged Antigua’s economic recovery and hindered its ability to diversify. 

The delay in compensation has not only strained the economic relations between Antigua and the United States but has also raised questions about the effectiveness and enforcement mechanisms of international trade agreements. 

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The WTO’s inability to ensure timely compliance with its rulings has led to a situation where small nations like Antigua find themselves at a disadvantage in their pursuit of justice on the global stage. 

The US$21 million annual compensation awarded to Antigua by the WTO, while a modest sum on the scale of the United States’ economy, holds immense significance for the small island nation. 

In 2017, Antigua Ambassador to the US Sir Ronald Sanders reported that the US had offered Antigua a derisory $2m to resolve the matter — a sum that represents less than 1% of America’s outstanding obligation. 

As Sanders pointed out, $2m would not even cover the legal fees that Antigua has spent pursuing justice at the WTO. He said the US has failed to respond to Antigua’s communications since making this pitifully small offer. 

The U.S however is not backward in demanding money from Antigua. In 2020, Prime Minister Gaston Browne recalled a telephone conversation with US Ambassador to Antigua Linda Taglialatela, in which she threatened that the US would withhold military support to the small island state unless a EC$25 million owed for a port loan several years ago was paid. 

The threat appears not only as a perplexing demand but also raises concerns about the power dynamics at play. The international community watches and questions the ethical grounds on which the United States asserts its right to demand repayment whilst itself in arrears to Antigua and Barbuda. 

In 2023, the case again went to the WTO, but in 2024, Antigua continued to fight for the promised compensation. As the dispute lingers on, Antigua awaits the resolution that has been delayed for far too long.

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