How Close Will GATS Get to Human Rights?

GATS AND THE REGULATION OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN SERVICES, Marion Panizzon, Nicole Pohl and Pierre Sauvé, eds., UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008

NCCR Trade Regulation Working Paper No. 2006/14

43 Pages Posted: 6 Feb 2008 Last revised: 9 Feb 2010

Date Written: August 1, 2006


Similarly to the UN considering gross human rights violations a threat to peace, the WTO should consider certain human rights violations an impediment to free trade. Mutually agreed benefits of trade liberalization may be offset when a human rights infringement nullifies and impairs the multilaterally agreed level of tariff concessions or the negotiated volume of market access commitments in services. The liberalization of services trade through mode 4, whereby the service supplier moves abroad to deliver a service, relies on the free movement of natural persons. This mode of service delivery renders the GATS the WTO covered agreement with the closest affinity to the individual as a subject of international law and therefore, to human rights. Restricting the human rights of foreign service suppliers therefore could have the effect of nullifying and impairing the economic value and legal predictability of the GATS commitments. The WTO Agreements lack the legal basis for prosecuting human rights violations. While WTO Members are bound to respect jus cogens human rights, the non-jus cogens human rights originating in customary international law usually do not raise trade issues relevant enough to question the consistency with a provision of the WTO Agreements. It is suggested that the non-violation nullification and impairment complaints may be used to consider the economic damage which occurs when human rights infringements impair upon GATS commitments, specifically in those cases where the WTO Members receiving services condition their mode 4 commitments to the respect for core labour standards. If the human right amounts to jus cogens or emanates from a human rights treaty to which both parties to a WTO dispute are Members, the human right itself forms the ground of a WTO violation complaint. In all other cases, it is not the human rights violation itself, but its effect that is the economic damage on the sending country's economy, which nullifies and impairs a trade benefit.

Keywords: Human Rights, Labour Mobility, GATS, Annex on Movement of Natural Persons Supplying Services under the Agreement, International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, Schedule of Specific Commitments, non-violation nullification and impairment

Suggested Citation

Panizzon, Marion, How Close Will GATS Get to Human Rights? (August 1, 2006). NCCR Trade Regulation Working Paper No. 2006/14. Available at SSRN: or

Marion Panizzon (Contact Author)

University of Bern Law School ( email )

Institute of Public Law
Schanzeneckstrasse 1
Bern, CH-3012
++41 1 31 631 4199 (Phone)
++41 31 631 3630 (Fax)


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