The most-favoured-nation (MFN) principle is a cornerstone of the multilateral trading system conceived after World War II. It seeks to replace the frictions and distortions of power-based (bilateral) policies with the guarantees of a rules-based framework where trading rights do not depend on the individual participants’ economic or political clout. Rather, the best access conditions that have been conceded to one country must automatically be extended to all other participants in the system. This allows everybody to benefit, without additional negotiating effort, from concessions that may have been agreed between large trading partners with much negotiating leverage.
In the context of the GATS, the MFN obligation (Article II) is applicable to any measure that affects trade in services in any sector falling under the Agreement, whether specific commitments have been made or not. Exemptions could have been sought at the time of the acceptance of the Agreement (for acceding countries: date of accession). They are contained in country-specific lists, and their duration must not exceed ten years in principle.