What is Most Favoured Nation?
In international economic relations and international politics, most favoured nation (MFN) is a status or level of treatment accorded by one state to another in international trade. The term means the country which is the recipient of this treatment must, nominally, receive equal trade advantages as the “most favored nation” by the country granting such treatment. (Trade advantages include low tariffs or high import quotas.) In effect, a country that has been accorded MFN status may not be treated less advantageously than any other country with MFN status by the promising country. There is a debate in legal circles whether MFN clauses in BIT’s include only substantive rules or also procedural protections.The members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agree to accord MFN status to each other. Exceptions allow for preferential treatment of developing countries, regional free trade areas and customs unions.Together with the principle of national treatment, MFN is one of the cornerstones of WTO trade law. Most favoured nation relationships extend reciprocal bilateral relationships following both GATT and WTO norms of reciprocity and non-discrimination. In bilateral reciprocal relationships a particular privilege granted by one party only extends to other parties who reciprocate that privilege, while in a multilateral reciprocal relationship the same privilege would be extended to the group that negotiated a particular privilege. The non-discriminatory component of the GATT/WTO applies a reciprocally negotiated privilege to all members of the GATT/WTO without respect to their status in negotiating the privilege.In United States federal law, MFN is termed permanent normal trade relations.
- Trade experts consider MFN clauses to have the following benefits:
- A country that grants MFN on imports will have its imports provided by the most efficient supplier. This may not be the case if tariffs differ by country.
- MFN allows smaller countries, in particular, to participate in the advantages that larger countries often grant to each other, whereas on their own, smaller countries would often not be powerful enough to negotiate such advantages by themselves.
- Granting MFN has domestic benefits: having one set of tariffs for all countries simplifies the rules and makes them more transparent. It also lessens the frustrating problem of having to establish rules of origin to determine which country a product (that may contain parts from all over the world) must be attributed to for customs purposes.
- MFN restrains domestic special interests from obtaining protectionist measures. For example, butter producers in country A may not be able to lobby for high tariffs on butter to prevent cheap imports from developing country B, because, as the higher tariffs would apply to every country, the interests of A’s principal ally C might get impaired.
- As MFN clauses promote non-discrimination among countries, they also tend to promote the objective of free trade in general.
GATT members recognized in principle that the most favoured nation rule should be relaxed to accommodate the needs of developing countries, and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (established in 1964) has sought to extend preferential treatment to the exports of the developing countries.
Another challenge to the most favoured nation principle has been posed by regional trade blocs such as the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which have lowered or eliminated tariffs among the members while maintaining tariff walls between member nations and the rest of the world. Trade agreements usually allow for exceptions to allow for regional economic integration.