The principles underlying the multilateral trading system come from the end of the Second World War. If the charter of the International Trade Organization ("ITO" organization stillborn) stressed the need to comply with "fair labour standards," the text of GATT, which survived and supported the multilateral trade relations between 1947 and 1995, makes no reference to the social dimensions affected by trade. Today, the World Trade Organization ("WTO") has an essentially economic function and its rules respond to the logic of a market economy. If the WTO aims to stimulate economic growth, it must do so, as clearly stipulated in the Marrakesh Agreement, in the interest of social welfare, and respect for sustainable development.
Gabrielle Marceau suggests that WTO rules can be interpreted and implemented in compliance with international norms and standards relating to human rights and other considerations issued from international social law. Several arrangements of the WTO treaty, inherited from the 1947 GATT, are likely to be read in an evolutionary manner, in light of sustainable development. This approach allows integrating social norms, or at least some of them, in the implementation of rights and obligations contained in various multilateral trade agreements. But the problem of the inclusion of social standards in the WTO system enlightens another question: is the WTO the proper place to discuss labor issues and set rules on this? Can it enforce such rules, including those of the ILO?
Gabrielle Marceau, Ph.D., is Advisor to the Legal Affairs Division of the WTO that she has joined in September 1994. Her main function is to advise members of specials groups set up to adjudicate disputes between member countries of WTO. From September 2005 to January 2010, Mrs. Marceau was an advisor in the Office of the Director-General of the WTO. Dr. Marceau is also Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Geneva and at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, where she teaches the law of the WTO and its dispute settlement system. Prior to joining the WTO, Gabrielle Marceau practiced in a private firm in Quebec, where she had specialized in civil law, insurance law and employment law. She is a member of the Quebec Bar and participates in various academic, professional and social assemblies. Ms. Marceau has to her credit numerous publications on topics concerning the WTO and international economic law.