UK/USA/EU Export Controls Customs Advisor




Export Controls







Q. What are export controls all about?

A. The Government imposes restrictions on exports and re-exports for a number of reasons including:


the collective security of the UK and its allies in NATO;

national security and control of anything which contributes to Nuclear, Biological or Chemical Weapons or Military and Para military Goods  ;

foreign policy and UK/EU/US and UN Embargoes/ Sanctions under international treaty obligations and Non-Proliferation policy;


Counter Terrorism, internal repression and Human Rights violations.

If goods, Software or technologies are subject to UK export controls or if the Country of Destination or buyer is on any Embargo or Denial List Exporters will need an export licence to export them. Forwarders are subject to similar rules where they act for the exporter or non-residents even for movement within the European Union in some cases.


Failure to obtain an appropriate license can lead to seizure of goods by the UK Border Force followed by criminal charges, large financial penalties or restrictions on exports in more serious cases.  Exporters or forwarders who suspect any discrepancy whatsoever are advised to seek advice and make voluntary disclosure to the authorities where a breach of the rules seems likely.

The Strategic Control Lists include not only arms and industrial equipment and technologies, which could be used to produce arms, but a long list of so called Dual Use items must be classified and covered by a valid export licence. Exporters are required by law to classify all exports and send the list to their forwarders and regularly update it.


Q. Are Subsidiaries of US, Japanese and other EU countries subject to UK rules and do other countries impose restrictions abroad?

A. All companies and persons resident in UK are subject to the same rules as UK companies and persons but many foreign subsidiaries have assumed that they were only bound by the same rules as their parent company or that adherence to US Extraterritorial rules covered them for export from the UK. This has led to significant embarrassment of the parent companies in UK and at home and to dismissal or recall of relevant personnel and managers. Sales to national governments have in some cases been adversely affected.


In addition the UK has “Trade Controls” and Japan has Audits which apply Extraterritorially to their nationals and companies abroad and are subject to severe penalties in the event of  

The United States however has sweeping complex rules restrictions and denial lists which apply worldwide to us EXPORTS AND RE-EXPORTS, US Persons, Companies, Products, Technology Software and even to speech  BUT WITH EXEMPTIONS AND CONDITIONS WHICH MUST BE COMPLIED WITH AND DOCUMENTED IN MANY CASES. Further explanation of these issues are described elsewhere on the website.  


Q. What other International Agreements apply?

A. The vast majority of the export controls implemented by the UK authorities are based on international agreements and so you will find very similar requirements in most other industrialised countries. For example, the lists of controlled items are  based on lists agreed internationally by the organisations listed below.


Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Commits the five official nuclear weapons states:- USA, UK, France, Russia & China, to not transferring nuclear weapons or technology to others or assisting, encouraging or inducing their manufacture or acquisition. Other signatories, the non-nuclear weapon states, have undertaken not to acquire nuclear weapons and to accept monitoring of their civil nuclear programmes by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Signatories to the NPT number over 180 countries.


Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) This convention bans the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition and use of bacteriological (biological) and toxin weapons, also provides for the destruction of existing weapons.


Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Bans the possession, development, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical weapons, also provides for the destruction of existing weapons and the means to produce.


These treaties are legally binding, various countries have informal groups working together against the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programmes in certain countries.
Including the Wassenaar Arrangement membership, some 40 countries are currently involved in these activities through the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Zangger Committee, the Australia Group (AG), and the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)


Q. If the controls are mainly associated with arms and their production, does this mean that only defence companies are affected?

A. No, because the list of controlled items is mainly made up of so-called 'dual-use' goods & technology, which means items which are usually, or predominantly, used in commercial or industrial applications but which have an additional application in a defence context. A 'loose' definition may be 'capable of but not specially designed for military purposes' Care is needed here because the link to a military application may be quite remote or tenuous and you might be surprised about what is actually on the list.


Q. Can you provide some examples of these dual-use items?

A. It is difficult to provide an exhaustive or representative statement because the list of dual-use controlled goods runs to many pages and arguably touches upon just about every area of technology that you are likely to find in a factory or research laboratory.


The dual-use list covers nuclear equipment, machine tools, chemicals, materials, electronic components, instrumentation, computers, telecommunications equipment, aircraft, navigation, sensors, underwater technology, lasers, propulsion and many other areas, including associated software and technology .


In the case of Embargoes or Sanctions or Military Use the prohibitions may extend to all services, software and even to oral advice where the technology and destination are both highly sensitive.


Q. In summary, which goods need a licence?

A. The main types of Goods & Technologies that require a licence are:

goods capable of, but not specially designed for, military purposes; (examples in previous question).

military equipment such as arms, ammunition, bombs, tanks, imaging devices, military aircraft and warships.


nuclear-related goods including nuclear materials, nuclear reactors and nuclear processing plant.

chemical weapons precursors, and related equipment and technology.
certain micro-organisms, biological equipment and technology.

goods used in programmes involving weapons of mass destruction and missiles used for their delivery.


goods to be exported or supplied to destinations that are the subject of UK/US/EU & United Nations trade sanctions.


Q. Do the controls apply just to finished goods?

A. No, components, spare parts and technology for controlled goods are also likely to require a licence. Generally speaking, if the systems equipment or finished item is subject to control then any item, be it a component part, test equipment, software or technical data, if specific to or specially designed for that controlled item is also likely to be controlled.


Q. How do we work out whether our goods are on the list?

A. Consult the Strategic Export Lists which are published by the Export Control Organisation a department of BIS in


There is no avoiding this and the complexity of rules require you to use specialist advice or trained staff to interpret the Strategic List along with staff who know the product prior to export, regardless of overseas destination. You must compare the product specifications with descriptions shown in the appropriate legislation control lists to make this determination, if necessary by reference to the original equipment manufacturers..


.' Further complications arise where items are not actually listed but you may be aware or have suspicions or be informed that they are intended to be used in connection with 'weapons of mass destruction' (WMD) or missiles for their delivery - in which case you must apply for an export licence under the 'end-use control' provisions


 The Export Control Organisation at BIS offer a rating advisory service, and you can complete the Export Rating Request Form from the ECO through the SPIRE website and send it to the Technologies Unit along with suitable specifications and technical details, you will then receive advice as to whether or not, in their view on the information given the items are controlled or non-controlled subject to the end-use control & sanctions etc.


Q. Can you summarise the legal measures on Export Controls applicable to UK Exporters ?

See below but a more detailed list can be found on the ECO website

A. For Military equipment, dual-use items and other items whose export is subject to control for strategic reasons, legislation was updated by introduction of The Export Control Act with effect from 1st May 2004:

UK Export Control Order 2008 - This is the 'main legislation' effective since 6th April 2009

Council Regulation (EU) No 1290/2014

Council Regulation (EC) 428/2009 (The EC Regulation) as amended......

Council Regulation (EC) 1236/2005 (Controls on Torture Goods)

Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006


The EC Regulation contains provision for the following:

Annex I - The EU Common Control List of Dual -Use Items in Categories 0 - 9, General Notes, Definitions, Acronyms & abbreviations.
Annex II - Details eligibility & conditions of use of the Community General Export Authorisation (CGEA EU001) for shipments of eligible Annex I items from the EC to: Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland & United States of America. Contains special registration & reporting requirements for the exportation of Cryptographic products.

Annex III - Provides licensing guidelines for application across the Community.
Annex IV - A list of most sensitive Annex I items that require special conditions, even for intra EC transfers ie movement within the European Union.

As with all legislation, you are advised to take legal advice where necessary and to ensure that you are referring to the latest version.


Q. What actually constitutes an Export ?

A. HM Revenue & Customs 'Implementing Provisions Relating to Export Chapter 1 Permanent Exportation Article 788'

 "The exporter, within the meaning of Article 161 (5) of the Code, shall be considered to be the person on whose behalf the export declaration is made and who is the owner of the goods or has a similar right of disposal over them at the time when the declaration is accepted.

Where ownership or a similar right of disposal over the goods belongs to a person established outside the Community pursuant to the contract on which the export is based, the exporter shall be considered to be the contracting party established in the Community. This is particularly relevant to Freight Forwarders.


In Export Control terms, apart from what may be called normal shipments by sea, air & road, this will also include Mail (also electronic mail and voice in some cases - known as 'intangible'). Also includes shipments by courier and in personal luggage (hand-carry). An export in this sense may also include provision of services such as installation, maintenance and technical assistance in some cases.



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