Sanctions, embargoes and restrictions

Strategic export control and arms embargoes

Secondary legislation introduced under the Export Control Act 2002 provides licensing and enforcement powers to the Department for International Trade (DIT) in relation to sanctions and embargoes on military and dual-use items.

It is a criminal offence to export strategic or controlled goods that are subject to sanction and embargo regimes without a specific licence issued by the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU) part of DIT. The export of some goods is also banned outright. This page explains briefly how export controls operate and how traders, sellers, agents or brokers can apply for a licence to export strategic goods.

Brief overview of export controls

The chief task of the ECJU is to process applications for licences to export strategic goods, software and technology from the UK. Strategic items include not only military products but also a wide range of other dual-use items such as chemicals, lasers, high-powered computers, cryptographic items and much more - some obvious and others less so.

The key to determining if your export or trade deal is licensable depends on four key factors:

  • type of items being exported - whether the items on a list of licensable goods (the UK Strategic Export Control Lists)
  • destination concerned - whether the country is subject to sanctions or other concerns
  • end-use of the items
  • other licensable trade or export activities

For information on applying for a licence and export controls in general, read our beginners' guide to export controls. You also need to consider how to determine if your goods need an export licence. 

Banned Goods

It is illegal to import or export some types of goods, including anti-personnel landmines, laser weapons or significant amounts of new nuclear material or to export nuclear weapons or technologies to countries other than recognised nuclear weapon states. It is also illegal to import or export certain items that could be used for torture or capital punishment. 

Countries subject to arms embargoes

Details of the specific sanctions measures imposed on named destinations are available via the section on current export restrictions by country.

Your export responsibilities

It is vital that individual exporters check that their goods can be exported or traded to a particular destination, as missing or incorrect licences can lead to delays, seizures, fines, penalties or even imprisonment.

Exporters should keep up to date with the latest legislation, which is subject to change. You are advised to subscribe to receive the ECJU's Notices to Exporters which provide updates on arms embargoes and other export control announcements.

Applying for a licence

All applications for licences to export military or dual-use items controlled for strategic reasons are considered on a case-by-case basis by the ECJU.

SPIRE is the ECJU's fully electronic system for processing export licence applications.

You should familiarise yourself with the export control licensing process and how to appeal.

For further information you can call the ECJU Helpline on 020 7215 4594 or email