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updated 1/17/2008 1:14:13 PM ET 2008-01-17T18:14:13

Antigua and Barbuda's top finance official said Wednesday he is hopeful that a high-level meeting in Washington with a U.S. trade official could lead to resolution of a dispute over Internet gambling.

Antigua accuses the U.S. of crippling its gambling industry by banning Americans from placing online bets with gambling operators, including those based in the twin-island nation of 70,000 people.

Last month, the World Trade Organization backed Antigua's request to target U.S. services, copyrights and trademarks in retaliation for a U.S. online betting ban — but ruled it could impose only $21 million in annual trade sanctions.

Finance Minister Errol Cort, speaking to reporters before boarding a flight to Washington, said a Thursday sit-down with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab would be the first "detailed discussions" between the tiny Caribbean islands and the United States over the gambling discord.

"We believe this matter can be settled in an amicable way because we enjoy an excellent relationship with the United States," Cort said. "I am therefore hopeful (we can) come to some broad understanding in terms of settlement."

Cort has described the WTO's decision as a setback for Antigua, which had sought to apply $3.4 billion in retaliatory measures against the U.S.

A law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2006 bars banks and credit card companies from processing payments to online gambling businesses outside the country. The regulation effectively blocks Antigua's access to the U.S. gambling market, the most lucrative in the world.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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