US Trade Representative tests his verbal jujitsu out on the WTO
We didn’t really mean it, Frist crony says
House of Cards The US Trade Representative (USTR) spoke out yesterday against the compliance panel report that slammed the US for failing to bring its online gambling policies in line with previous WTO rulings.
The new American argument is really something of a Trojan horse for the international body - the USTR now claims that the US will comply fully with the report, but with the caveat that the US never really agreed for gambling services to be covered by the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) back in 1994 when the agreement was finalized.
This new tack rather cleverly allows the US to maintain a fig leaf of compliance with the WTO rulings while revising its own commitments, although under GATS, affected member states would also be allowed to adjust their own commitments as compensation for the US action.
"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," said Deputy United States Trade Representative John K. Veroneau.
"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."
Other countries, of course, could well take issue with some of those comments. Interstate gambling on horse racing is clearly legal under the Interstate Horseracing Act, which is why the WTO panel ruled rather narrowly against the US on that issue. And that in turn begs the question - why can’t the US just bring itself into compliance on this rather narrow issue of gambling on horse racing over the phone or the internet? Obviously, it’s fairly common in the US and the sky has yet to fall, so what’s the big deal?
Veroneau’s personal history might have something to do with it. He previously held the title of “Legislative Director” for the now - departed Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, a social conservative and rabid opponent of online gambling who tacked the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) to a port security bill under cover of night.
The gist of Veroneau’s argument is that somehow America naively signed on to GATS without knowing what it was doing, although many other signatories specifically excluded gambling services from their commitments - an argument that rings rather hollow. And if most of the other signatories to the treaty were aware of what they were doing, why should other countries assume the US did not?
Whether or not this will be the panacea the USTR seeks is still questionable, however. If other countries "clarify" their agreements under the GATS, they could well use it as a hammer against US intellectual property interests just as Antigua will be able to once the compliance panel process comes to a close.
The US could well discover that compliance with the WTO on internet horse race gambling would have been the simplest and cheapest solution of all. ®
Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office
I think - but will obviously be corrected..
That when it comes to things like gambling - you know, stuff that can really do some damage to those with a tendency to get addicted to that sort of thing - then it really should be ok for a country to say "no thanks" when a business makes it a little too easy to access.
On the other hand that only applies if you have the same rule for domestic businesses - and this I think is where the US is having a few problems. That is they only seem to think that gambling online using a foreign bookie is dangerous. No doubt their own chaps give the money back if they think someone just spent the mortgage payment on a horse race.
We should be fair though, most countries are a little bit naughty when it comes to making stuff up to help politicos look good back home - but when you're called on it perhaps you should have a better answer than "when we said we'd sign up for fair trade practices with our international partners, we meant everything except online gambling."
It's sort of like signing up for the Geneva Conventions, then saying later that you didn't mean the bit about torture. Now who was called on that recently, it's right on the tip of my tongue?
Sounds like the wood trade with Canada
Almost 2 years back, the US got told by the WTO that it's embargo and high import taxes were illegal, to stop imposing them and to re-imburse Canada the taxes it levied. Two years in and we have yet to have the taxes lifted, never mind reimbursed.
The US as never been a very good buisness partner, but since Bush is president, it's even worst.
US needs to be out of the WTO
The powers that be, the very, very rich in the US do not want US membership go up before constitutional challenge. Concessions made for membership in the WTO would be found unconstitutional.
Even so, while the majority of US citizens do not see any benefits from trade as negotiated through the WTO, while they have seen employment go offfshore and prices rise despite the fact that most of the everyday articles they use are being brought in from abroad.
Just say NO to the WTO!