House of Cards Antigua and Barbuda - a nation of 70,000 in an area roughly half the size of San Francisco - has formally requested that the WTO allow it to suspend its intellectual property obligations to the United States, AP reports.
Although many in the US have mocked tiny Antigua'a case against the US with a shrug of the shoulders, the Antiguans have always carried in their pockets a nuclear option of sorts. Most Americans view trade disputes through the prism of tit-for-tat protectionist schemes. A perceived price subsidy leads to retaliatory tariffs, etc; but the obligations imposed by WTO obligations run deeper than that.
Repeated violation of WTO commitments in the face of contrary WTO rulings allows a victimized member country ultimately to suspend its own WTO obligations to the offending nation - a form of restitution much more punitive than tariffs alone. America runs a steady and hefty trade deficit in virtually every category of international trade other than intellectual property.
Were the WTO - with possible European, Japanese, and Chinese support - to allow the Antiguans to suspend all intellectual property obligations to the United States, the American IP industry could face a tiny adversary with an unlimited right to reproduce for its own benefit American IP goods of any kind.
This is no joke - America has done everything it can to stamp out the internet gambling industry, particularly that of Antigua in the three years since Antigua first challenged the US before the international body the US itself worked so hard to create. Antigua originally hoped to develop its ecommerce segment to reduce its dependence on tourism, but, as a result of American interference, in the last few years the Antiguan internet gaming industry has shrunk by about 85 per cent.
And little Antigua is not the only country feeling the pinch. The UK, which has possibly the most well-regulated gambling market in the world - at the very least among the major economies - has sat back and watched as the DOJ has repeatedly arrested UK businessmen and executives.
The idea that other countries will put up with this abuse indefinitely may finally have run its course. Once one country chooses to revise its definitions of its own commitments, as the US claims it will do, other impacted countries may do the same. The only question now is whether the major American trading partners - Europe, Japan, and China - join the party.
Unlimited DRM-free copies of American music, movies, and Microsoft software?
Bring it on. It's about time. ®
Burke Hansen, attorney at large, heads a San Francisco law office