Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine one of the most pressing global challenges, the ongoing migrant trafficking across sea, from international trade law and policy perspective. It identifies global poverty as one of the underlying causes of such trafficking. It argues that restrictive trade in labour-intensive services of the World Trade Organization (WTO) contributes to and sustains poverty in many migrant producing countries. Chronic unemployment in poor countries with surplus manual workforce renders these workers bewildered to survive in a jobless and incomeless home markets. Non-liberalization of movements of natural persons under General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) Mode 4 prevents legal cross-border delivery of labours. Restrictive trade in agriculture has but aggravated their marginalized plight. It is this poverty trap that pushes workers, lured by smugglers, to take risky migration routes for better life in countries with labour shortages. Design/methodology/approach – The paper adopts a blend approach of theoretical and applied aspects of international trade law and policy, which is interpreted and applied to a fact situation of contemporary challenge of migrant trafficking by sea. Findings – This paper establishes a nexus between restrictive Mode 4 trade and its implications for poverty-induced migration trafficking trade. It suggests a palatable trade law and policy-based reform response for the WTO to ameliorate poverty and migration trafficking trade concurrently through the creation of legal channels for the cross-border delivery of labours by liberalizing Mode 4 trade in a manner beneficial for developed countries as well. Originality/value – Its value lies in its contribution to maximize multi-lateral trade liberalization for the benefit of all countries, social inclusion and economic emancipation of the disadvantaged, which would minimize global poverty.