The recent arrival in Antigua of a six man American negotiating team headed by Deputy US Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador John Veroneau appears to have done little to bring about a speedy resolution, going by comments from Antigua Finance Minister Dr. Errol Cort as the week closed.
The Minister told the Antigua Sun that despite plans for the US delegation to return to America on Tuesday, negotiations with the US government on Internet gaming can reasonably be expected to go on for a further two to three months, despite the much shorter timelines being set for discussion.
August 1st is the latest in a series of deadlines set by Antigua and Barbuda and the US for the conclusion of their negotiations for a settlement on the gaming issue. This follows two days of meetings between teams from the two nations.
The meetings did not reach agreement, and therefore World Trade Organisation legal measures will be further deferred to August 1 by mutual agreement.
Dr. Cort told the Sun that the short deadlines have been applied to negotiating periods as a means of keeping the talks active and productive, but did not mean that the matter was a simple one that could be resolved in a short period of time. He noted that while talks are ongoing with the USTR’s office, a number of other US government agencies are involved, further complicating the negotiations process.
“I am not suggesting for one moment that on August 1st, 2008 the parties would have signed off on an agreement. I don’t want it to be misunderstood and misconstrued that we set these deadlines and we are breaking these deadlines. The deadlines are really set to keep the parties at the negotiating table, but they are not set thinking that on the particular date these issues will be resolved,” he said.
He added that at any point in the talks, either party could walk away from the negotiations and return to the WTO arbitration process.
“If you ask me realistically how much longer I think it would take to really come to some agreement that could be signed off on both sides, to fully flesh out and ventilate the issues on the table… I would say that period would be perhaps over the next two to three months or so. If I had to put some time frame on it.
“Could it happen before? Yes, it’s possible depending on how quickly certain inter-agency discussions could take place and some sort of consensus be reached, but practically and realistically, having regard to how governments function…. I would say realistically we would need perhaps a two to three month time frame to really conclude one way or the other,” Cort opined.