In an unprecedented turn of events, the USTR announced on Friday that the United States is initiating the process to withdraw the gambling service sector from WTO jurisdiction, after losing a WTO case brought by Antigua. This is an embarrassing decision for USTR, but it's a great victory in our ongoing work to make sure democratically-enacted laws aren’t eroded by "trade" deals that enforce their rules through an international tribunal that’s neither open nor accountable to the people.
For the past several years, state officials concerned about trade agreement rules becoming a backdoor form of international preemption have been sounding the alarm particularly about the GATS (the service-sector agreement under which we signed up gambling to WTO rules).
Good news aside, let’s not lose sight of the fact that because USTR made a huge error in 1995 by signing up a sensitive service sector, it must now negotiate with other countries that want compensation for the lost market opportunity. What will we now offer to our trading partners in return? Unbelievably, USTR is still planning to offer entirely new service sectors to WTO jurisdiction in the current Doha Round of negotiations, most notably the higher education sector (as if corporate control of education hadn't already produced enough problem! I hear my student loans calling...) For more info on the Antigua case, check out our press release.
You’d think a costly mistake like the gambling one would be lesson enough for USTR to exercise some caution before signing up our highly regulated domestic service sectors to WTO rules. If you want to give them an extra nudge to make sure they don't, call your state legislators and tell them USTR shouldn't be making any more WTO service sector commitments without consulting the states.