By Caribbean News Now contributor
GENEVA, Switzerland — In July, the Trump administration launched separate trade disputes against World Trade Organisation (WTO) members China, the European Union, Canada, Mexico and Turkey, challenging retaliatory tariffs imposed by the five nations following the imposition of US duties on steel and aluminium.
These five new disputes join a total of 35 pending cases before the WTO in which the US is the complainant and 57 in which the US is the respondent, and follow a dispute filed in April by China concerning certain US duties imposed on imports of steel and aluminium products.
In August, China filed another dispute concerning additional duties applied by the United States on imports of Chinese goods.
Some 15 years ago, the US government invoked federal laws to halt gaming companies incorporated in Antigua and Barbuda, and others, from providing such services on a cross border basis into the US.
In response, in 2004, Antigua brought a WTO case against the US for the economic damage caused, and for violating its international obligations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services. The WTO’s arbitration panel found in Antigua’s favour and, when the US appealed, all subsequent verdicts reached the same general conclusion that the US action had deprived Antigua of trade revenues.
Despite this, the US has consistently refused to honour the WTO award which, at an assessed compensation of US$21 million annually, now amounts to some US$300 million. In contrast, the US has settled expeditiously with other larger countries similarly disadvantaged by the US actions.
In the meantime, notwithstanding the multitude of WTO disputes to which the US is a party, its failure to honour the award to Antigua and Barbuda means that it cannot be WTO compliant until it reaches a settlement.
At the same time, however, in the context of a trillion-dollar trade dispute, the amount owed to Antigua now begins to look like pocket change for the antagonists.
Although President Donald Trump has petulantly threatened to remove the US from the WTO, even though the organisation is essentially an American creation in the first place (in other words, if we can’t win, we’ll take away the ball), if the WTO dispute with China proceeds, Caribbean News Now understands that both sides will be looking to Antigua to provide something in the nature of a “character witness” in relation to the US.
Clearly, this would be something of an uphill battle for the US given the 15-year history of its dispute with Antigua and would, at the very least, require a good faith attempt to settle the awarded compensation.
China, on the other hand, has always firmly supported multilateralism, upheld the multilateral trading regime and opposed unilateralism and protectionism.
Since its accession to the WTO, China has fully engaged in the work of the organisation and the Doha Round negotiations on all items. China has fulfilled in good faith commitments it made upon its WTO accession, actively urged the WTO to attach more importance to the concerns of developing countries, and fully supported developing countries in integrating into the multilateral trading regime.
According to WTO sources, both sides may be contemplating beating a path to Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s door.