What is the GATS?

The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) forms, together with the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 94) and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), one of the three pillars of the World Trade Organization (WTO) multilateral trading system. It governs trade in services at the multilateral level.

The GATS aims, on the one hand, to ensure greater transparency and predictability of rules and regulations in services trade and, on the other hand, to improve market access and grant national treatment (non-discrimination between domestic and foreign suppliers) to foreign services and service suppliers through progressive liberalisation. The GATS is based on the most-favoured-nation clause (non-discrimination between WTO Members), which applies to all services covered by the Agreement unless exempted. The GATS does not imply deregulation. On the contrary, it explicitly recognises the right to regulate and to introduce new regulations, to achieve national policy objectives.

In principle, the GATS applies to all service sectors supplied through all modes (cross-border supply, consumption abroad, commercial presence abroad, supply of services by natural persons abroad). Services provided in the exercise of governmental authority are excluded. Members undertake to provide market access and national treatment only in those service sectors for which a Member has undertaken commitments. Sectors that are not included in the Members' Schedule of Specific Commitments are therefore not committed.

Each Member thus inscribes in its list the service sectors for which it grants market access to foreign suppliers (e.g. financial-, maritime-, telecommunications services) by mode of supply. This list can identify quantitative restrictions (quotas, economic needs clauses, monopolies), limitations on the form of juridical persons and on foreign ownership as well as reservations on national treatment (e.g. subsidies, residency requirements) which remain applicable. A second list allows each Member to enumerate exemptions to the most-favoured-nation clause. In principle, this second list can be modified only to remove discrimination among WTO Members. The most-favoured-nation principle does not apply, however, to preferential treatment granted in the framework of free trade agreements.

Switzerland’s consolidated schedule of specific commitments of is available below. It contains the commitments from the Uruguay Round concluded in 1994 as well as from subsequent negotiations.

Review of Swiss trade policy

Switzerland is subject to a trade policy review every four years at the WTO. The last review was completed in May 2022.

Notifications pursuant to the GATS

With a view to ensuring greater transparency in trade in services, WTO Members are required to notify, inter alia, changes to national legal and regulatory frameworks governing services sectors. Switzerland's notifications are published by the WTO.

Last modification 22.02.2023

Top of page


State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO
Holzikofenweg 36
CH-3003 Bern

Tel. +41 58 464 08 67

Print contact