Gambling sanctions pushed against U.S.

The tiny Caribbean nation of Antigua & Barbuda intends to pursue retaliatory sanctions against U.S. commercial services and intellectual property as part of its David vs. Goliath trade battle with the United States, the islands’ finance minister announced.

Finance Minister Harold Lovell told The Associated Press that the country of less than 90,000 people tried unsuccessfully for years to negotiate a “fair settlement” with the U.S. It accuses its neighbor to the north of hobbling its fragile economy by banning Americans from placing online bets with gambling operators, including licensed online casinos based in the twin-island nation.

In 2007, the WTO awarded Antigua the right to target U.S. services, copyrights and trademarks in retaliation for its online betting ban. But, in a setback for the Caribbean country, the global trade body capped the limit of annual trade sanctions at $21 million. Antigua had sought the right to impose $3.4 billion in retaliatory measures, while the U.S. offered about $500,000.

The former British colony had been promoting electronic commerce as a way to diversify its small economy and end its reliance on tourism which was slammed by a series of hurricanes in the late 1990s. In 2000, there were numerous licensed online casinos that employed roughly 3,000 people and the flourishing sector had an annual income of nearly $1 billion.

Now, Lovell said, the sector’s annual income is “miniscule” and there are just 400 employees.



Apparel industry is growing

Clothing makers are increasingly benefiting from a U.S. trade preference aimed at promoting the impoverished nation’s economy, U.S. congressional auditors reported Friday.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office said nearly $18 million worth of apparel was exported to the United States under a duty-free provision during the first nine months of 2012. This accounted for about four percent of the apparel Haiti exported to the U.S., it said.

The amount was significantly more than what GAO auditors found the year before during the same period, which was about $350,000. That was less than one-tenth of  one percent of Haiti’s U.S.-bound exports. The report said the number of special trade credits Haitian apparel firms received grew about fivefold. These credits are given to firms that use U.S.-produced fabric and other materials in exchange for duty-free trade preferences.

The garment industry once employed more than 100,000 people but it was devastated in the 1980s and 1990s when the country stumbled through a period of political upheaval and economic sanctions.

The U.S. government’s biggest investment in Haiti following the earthquake is a $300 million industrial facility that organizers hope will transform the northern part of the country by creating thousands of jobs. Some in Haiti have criticized that investment, saying the money should have been put into agriculture, housing or other areas of reconstruction.


Embattled premier says he won’t resign

Premier McKeeva Bush has rejected calls to resign over his arrest on suspicion of corruption, calling the investigation a plot by political enemies who are trying to weaken him and smear his reputation.

He shrugged off the allegations during a visit to Jamaica  on Dec. 13, two days after he was arrested by the British Caribbean territory’s police and a day after being released on bail until early February.

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service said they are looking into allegations that Bush misused his government credit card and abused his office by importing explosive devices without valid permits. He was arrested at his home on Grand Cayman on Tuesday morning and interviewed by investigators for two straight days.

No charges have been filed but police describe their investigation as “very active.”
There has been a growing call for Bush to step down since his arrest which surprised many supporters and critics in the famed Caribbean tax haven. But, after giving a commencement address to college graduates in Kingston, a defiant Bush said he has done nothing wrong and intends to stay on as premier.

Bush described Gov. Duncan Taylor, who represents the British monarchy in the three-island territory, as his “enemy.” He implied his arrest was orchestrated by the Britain-appointed governor and other political foes.


Drug suspects indicted

Members of a group accused of generating $650 million in revenue by selling prescription drugs not approved by the FDA to pharmacies in the U.S. were arrested in one of the largest cases of its kind, federal officials said.The drugs were sold from 2007 to 2011 to chain and independent pharmacies across the United States, mostly in cities such as Detroit, New York, Miami and Los Angeles, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Walsh said.

“There was evidence that the drugs were expired and had counterfeit labels, some with incorrect dosages,” Walsh said. He said some of those altered drugs were bought by chain pharmacies in Washington, D.C., and Arizona. The drugs sold include Advair, Celebrex, Lipitor, Nasonex, Valtrex and Viagra and others prescribed to treat HIV, cancer and depression, according to an indictment.

Walsh said there had been no reports of adverse health effects from patients who bought the drugs. He said it was unclear what percentage of the drugs sold were expired or otherwise altered.“It’s impossible to trace the pharmaceuticals because the pedigrees were false,” he said.

The suspects are accused of submitting fake documents, called pedigrees, to unsuspecting pharmacies that bought the drugs of unknown quality and origin, according to an indictment. The pedigrees falsely stated the drugs were obtained from authorized distributors, when they actually originated from a network of unlicensed suppliers based mostly in California and New York, the indictment said.