What Do They Have to Hide?

By now most people who play any kind of internet bingo or poker games have heard about the settlement the US recently reached with three members of the World Trade Organization. In December 2007 a deal was worked out between the European Union, Japan, and Canada. There has been very little media coverage and trying to find particulars of this agreement is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.

Recently an independent writer based in Michigan filed a Freedom of Information request to find out the details of the settlement reached between the US and the World Trade Organization. The government response to this simple request was “Please be advised that the document you seek is being withheld in full pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1), which pertains to information that is properly classified in the interest of national security pursuant to Executive Order 12958”. The US government is actually claiming that a trade agreement falls under national security!

Normally trade agreements are not classified as state secrets and why the government would take this position is troubling. An extensive online search failed to reveal anything but general information and the specifics of this agreement are all but impossible to access. Analysts have speculated that this agreement could cost the American taxpayers billions of dollars per year all in the name of “protecting public morals”. Presently the office of the US Trade Representative will not release any information about the settlement.

The only information released to the public by the Trade Representative is that “United States Postal Service has allowed foreign competitors to handle overseas mail for 20 years with this portion of the compensation agreement purely making the practice legally binding. Sensitive sectors such as domestic delivery and storage at ports and airports would remain closed to foreign firms.” Essentially what the USTR is saying is that nothing will change. The Financial Times of London summed it up best, “De facto, nothing really changes although current affairs are legally better backed through the WTO.”

It is known that the hearings in December did not go well for the US. Antigua had filed a claim against the US seeking billions in compensation for losses suffered by its gaming industry because of UIGEA. The WTO awarded Antigua $21 million in annual trade sanctions. Antigua had originally sought $3.4 billion in retaliatory measures against the U.S.

We may never know just how much this ridiculous law has cost the taxpayers already. With future claims against the US it is a certainty that it will continue to be a drain on an already weak economy. The classification of this settlement as a state secret makes one wonder what the government has to hide.