Antigua takes WTO dispute to UN

Antigua takes WTO dispute to UN
Prime Minister for Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Alphonso Browne, addresses the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, at the United Nations headquarters.
Associated Press / Frank Franklin II

Declaring that rich and powerful nations must help developing countries, such as those in the Caribbean, grow, instead of putting obstacles in their way, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne has taken the country’s ongoing dispute with the United States over online gambling to the United Nations.

In addressing the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly Debate on Thursday, Browne said that 11 years after the World Trade Organization (WTO) delivered a judgement in Antigua and Barbuda’s favor, “against a larger and vastly richer country for a trade violation, that set-back my small country by over 100 million dollars, that country has failed to settle with us.

“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Browne said. “After 11 years of not receiving the fruits of this judgement, which incidentally, are lawfully due to my country, my people are entitled to conclude that the powerful continue to ignore and trample the rights of the weak and that might is right.”

In the international trading system, Browne said Antigua and Barbuda, with a population of 100,000, is treated in the same way as the United States, Canada or Japan, stating that “scant attention is paid to the fact that our market size and the status of our development require us to be treated differently from larger and vastly more developed countries.”

He said even less attention is paid to the need for access to concessionary financing to fund development.

“At best, we are treated with benign neglect,” the Antiguan leader said. “Worse yet are the arbitrary and unjust rules that are imposed upon us that choke our efforts to diversify and develop our small economies.”

In this regard, he reiterated his condemnation of the recent “wrongful list” of the European Commission “that falsely named several small states in the Caribbean and the Pacific, including Antigua and Barbuda, as ‘tax havens.’”

Similarly, Browne deplored the “tax haven” list, produced by individual states and the District of Columbia within the United States that, he said, “has wrongfully and inappropriately labeled many Caribbean and Pacific countries.”

He noted that Antigua and Barbuda and other regional countries have Tax Information Exchange Agreements with the government of the United States, adding that they have been “fully cooperative and no request for tax information has ever been denied.”

With regard to the European Union’s (EU) “tax havens” list, Browne said Antigua and Barbuda has Tax Information Exchange Agreements with 18 of the 28 EU nations.

“Yet, because 10 of them, with which we do little or no business, arbitrarily and without consultation say that we are tax havens, we are placed on an EU rogue list that is published globally,” he said. “What is more, my country and many of the others wrongly named in both lists have been found to be fully compliant with all relevant international standards.

“And, we have been found to be compliant by the relevant authorities namely, the Financial Action Task Force and OECD’s (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) Global Tax Forum,” he added.

“It cannot be right that our small country’s reputation should be wrongfully tarnished by powerful countries, despite all that we have done, at great cost to our limited resources in order to comply with international standards,” Browne declared.

He said that “such wrongful tarnishing opens the possibility of financial institutions in Europe and the United States discontinuing correspondent relations with our banks.”

If that happens, the prime minister warned that “no one in our small states will be able to pay for any goods or services purchased from the United States and Europe, including food, tuition for our young studying abroad and medication and medical bills for our people in need of specialist treatment.

“The consequences would be disastrous, since we would be excluded from the international payment system and would be unable to settle our trade and investment transactions,” he said.

Additionally, Browne cautioned that the region’s banking system would collapse, their economies would be “irreparably damaged and our people would be plunged into abject poverty, contrary to the objectives of the post-2015 development agenda.”

He said that international principles, to which small states readily adhere, “should not be overturned by bigger countries that seek to impose their will on smaller ones.

“It is not fair; it is not just; it is not democratic; and it is patently wrong,” he said. “My country – and many others like mine – are not looking for hand-outs. We do not want to endure the indignity of begging. What we want is a chance to develop a chance to improve the living standards of our people.”

Browne applauded China, whose president, in addressing the General Assembly a few days ago, undertook to establish a fund for South-South cooperation, with an initial pledge of US$2 billion, to support developing countries in the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda.

Browne also hailed China’s announcement of a 10-year, US$1 billion fund to support the UN’s work in peacekeeping and development.

“China should be acknowledged and applauded for the care it is demonstrating for others in the global community,” he said.

Browne also acknowledged the contributions of two other developing nations, Venezuela and Cuba, which, he said, have made significant contributions to South-South cooperation.

“Despite the economic challenges that these three developing countries face, they have given help to other countries unstintingly,” he said.

“If these three countries, challenged as they are, can recognize an obligation to all mankind regardless of race, color, size or geographical location, surely, rich and developed countries should be able to do the same,” he added, calling on developed countries to “stand up and be counted.”

At the same time, Browne applauded those countries, such as Britain, Germany and Sweden, which have met their commitments to deliver 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) as official development assistance, urging others to follow suit.

On matters of peace and security, the Antiguan prime minister welcomed the accord by Cuba and the United States in re-establishing diplomatic relations after a half century of acrimonious relations.

But in the same breadth, he urged the U.S. Congress to lift the embargo against Cuba, “which serves no one’s interest or any useful purpose.

“Further, we support the call for the United States to return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba,” he said.

At the same time, Browne congratulated the U.S. government for the agreement reached with Iran.

“While we are mindful, that five other countries were involved in the process, we recognize that President Obama faced the most difficult circumstances,” he said. “We commend his far sightedness, as we applaud the willingness of all the participating countries, including Iran, to overcome obstacles through negotiations and dialogue.”

Browne also expressed Antigua and Barbuda’s “deep concern” at the recent devastation of our Dominica by tropical storm Erika.

He said within the limited capacity of every member-state of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), “we made immediate financial and other tangible contributions to Dominica.

“Despite our own challenges, we stood-up for the humanitarian needs of our neighbor,” Browne said. “But, even as we did so, we were aware, that wider international support is necessary.”

Therefore, he appealed for continued international support for Dominica in its recovery process.

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