EU Trade Delegation's Visit to U.S. Curiously Postponed

23 July 2008

A European Union trade delegation scheduled to visit Washington, D.C., this week was told by the office of the United States trade representative to postpone its visit.

The delegation, comprised of members of the European Commission, was to discuss the Trade Barriers Regulation complaint filed by the United Kingdom's Remote Gambling Association in December 2007.

The RGA, a London trade association, has alleged the United States violated the General Agreement on Trade in Services, a World Trade Organization treaty from which the United States recently withdrew.

By "unfairly enforcing or threatening criminal prosecutions and forfeitures against foreign online gambling operators," the association said in a prepared statement, the United States Department of Justice allowed domestic gambling operators -- namely horse-race wagering operators -- to operate with impunity.

Acting on the complaint, the European Commission recently sent the United States trade representative a questionnaire seeking, among other things, a clearer picture of American Internet gambling policy.

Clive Hawkswood, who heads the RGA, told IGamingNews in late June that the questionnaire was not well received, and called the trade representative's responses "dismissive" in tone.

He said then that members of the commission, including Peter Mandelson, the European trade commissioner, were likely to head to Washington in July to meet with United States trade officials.

Mr. Hawkswood, who is in Washington this week, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that he was not aware of why the trade representative delayed the European delegation's visit.

"Unclear why," he said, "but we're not reading too much into it. Most likely date for the trip is now September but nothing's been confirmed."

Looking ahead, there are three possible outcomes with regard to the commission's trade-barriers investigation.

The first is that the commission declares the United States is not in breach of any trade laws; in this case, the complaint would be dropped.

The second is that the commission decides that the United States has violated trade obligations to the European Union, and then it tries to negotiate a settlement.

The third is that the commission finds the United States in error but is unable to reach a settlement with the federal government. In this case, the commission's only recourse is to file a formal complaint with the W.T.O.

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