Antigua to U.S.: Settle long-standing trade judgment

Antigua and Barbuda has reiterated its call on the United States to settle its long, outstanding trade judgment “fairly and expeditiously.”

In his maiden address to the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Prime Minister Gaston Browne noted that it has been “10 long years” since Antigua and Barbuda secured a favorable decision by the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body in a complaint against the U.S. on online gambling.

“Despite that favorable judgment and, even in the face of losing appeals against it, the United States government has not seen it as a ‘noble action’ to settle with my small state in a manner consistent with the harm done to our economy,” Browne told the world body.

“My country has been denied income which – had we continued to earn – would have contributed significantly to the welfare of my people, and to the capacity of our economy to cope with the grave effects of Climate Change and the financial crisis to which we became a casualty,” he added.

Browne said when Antigua and Barbuda took the United States before the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body, it did so not as an act of hostility to a neighbor, with whom it enjoyed a long and friendly relationship, but because “we had a duty of care to our people.”

Browne, whose Antigua Labor Party was elected to office three months ago, said his small state was “the victim of a trade violation,” and that, in good faith, it sought relief within the international system and the democratic principles and rule of law that it is meant to uphold.

To be fair, he said the system delivered justice, but added that, doing so, “its weakness was exposed when justice could not be enforced because the powerful party whom it found against would not settle with the small country that it injured.”

“However, if democracy and the rule of law are to prevail in our international system, they have to be upheld and respected by the powerful as much as they are imposed upon the weak; or, indeed, it will foster resentment, discontent and possibly conflict,” Browne warned.

Recalling U.S. President Barack Obama’s address at the same forum the day before that “right makes might – that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones,” Browne said if this universal truth is a guiding principle of Obama’s administration, “then the United States cannot continue to approbate and reprobate on this principle.

“The noble thing is for the United States to settle this long outstanding judgment fairly and expeditiously,” he declared.

In another context but on a similar principle, the Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister also noted Obama’s statement a year ago: “The principle of sovereignty is at the centre of our international order. But sovereignty cannot be an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.”

Browne said Obama was “perfectly right,” adding: “And that is why I believe he will agree that sovereignty and power should not be a shield against the fulfilment of obligations independently assessed or an excuse for not settling this very vexing issue.”

The Antiguan leader said Obama would also agree that the international community cannot turn a “blind eye” to the half-century-long economic and trade embargo imposed on Cuba.

Stating that Antigua and Barbuda supports the preservation of the sovereignty of every nation and that it is “very proud of our long-standing relationship with the Republic of Cuba,” Browne, therefore, joined with the international community in condemning “any discriminatory and retaliatory policies and practices, which serve to prevent Cuba from exercising its right to freely participate in the affairs of the hemisphere.

“My government firmly believes that any application of unilateral and extraterritorial coercive laws and measures that conflict with international law and the principles of free navigation and international trade is wrong,” he said.

“We, therefore, urge our long-standing friend, the United States, to respect and take note of the numerous calls by the United Nations to immediately bring an end to the unjust economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on our neighbor, Cuba,” he added.

But despite not having any military might nor economic clout, Browne said Antigua and Barbuda will “continue to uphold the value of this United Nations vigorously,” adding that it will join efforts for U.N. reform, making it “the guardian of all nations and all peoples.”

“We would like to see reform that democratizes the United Nations to give a greater voice to those countries, such as mine, that are marginalised in decision-making because we are considered too small to make a difference,” he said.

“We would also welcome comprehensive reform in the U.N. Security Council that ends the anachronism of vetoes by five permanent members – a system that has no legitimacy in fairness and in global balance; and a system that has often paralyzed the Security Council from acting in a manner that would command worldwide support and acclamation,” he added.

“It is paradoxical that for these nations, particularly those that most fiercely advocate respect for democracy and the rule of law – to implement these principles at home but decline to implement them abroad,” Browne continued.

“Respect for the rule of law and for the democratic principle that gives nations rights that are as inalienable as the rights of the individual in powerful states, must become integral to the process and systems of governance by which the world’s affairs are managed,” he said.

Browne said small states, such as Antigua and Barbuda, rely on the strength of the United Nations and on international respect for democracy and the rule of law to “protect us from incursions on our sovereignty and disregard for our rights.”

The Antiguan prime minister expressed his government’s “full agreement” with the decision to make the theme of the General Assembly debate, “Delivering on and Implementing a Transformative Post-2015 Development Agenda.”

Noting that the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Taskforce has reported mixed progress in the achievement of key targets, Browne said Official Development Assistance (ODA) is among the targets on which there has been “insufficient acceleration.”

But while congratulating those countries that have reached the pledged target of 0.7 percent of ODA to Gross National Income (GNI), he lamented that the developed world is “still not meeting the target of US$315 billion,” adding that “it is not even fulfilling half that amount.”

Browne said Antigua and Barbuda and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as a whole have “witnessed a decline in bilateral assistance from larger and richer nations within our own hemisphere,” stating that they have instead “relied on non-traditional sources,” such as China and Venezuela.

Going forward, Browne called for “more global engagement on development assistance with representatives at the table not only of donors but recipients.

“Beyond all this – and as a most urgent matter – the international financial institutions must be urged to stop penalizing small states in the Caribbean on the basis of their flawed per capita income criterion,” he said, adding that Caribbean countries are denied access to concessional financing because they are classified as middle-income.

“This obdurate attitude of the international financial institutions, in not devising better criteria for assessing the eligibility of our small economies for concessionary financing, forces us into the commercial market,” he continued.

As a result, Browne said the region’s debt is rising, declaring that “many of us are among the most highly indebted countries in the world on a per capita basis.”