What Is an Export Restriction?

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  • Written By: Daphne Mallory
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2019
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An export restriction is either a ban on exporting items to a certain country or individual, or a limit on the amount of an item that can be exported to that country or individual. Export restrictions are usually set by governmental bodies and are imposed on individuals or companies seeking to export goods out of their home country. For example, in the United States, export restrictions on most commercial goods are set by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) within the Department of Commerce. The restriction on exportation of defense items is determined by the U.S. Department of State. Items that can or cannot be exported are sometimes determined by a nation’s foreign policy, and the lists of countries or goods that export restrictions are placed upon are often subject to change.


Individuals who are classified by governments as the leaders of enemy nations, terrorist associates, enemy combatants or narcotics traffickers may have an export restriction imposed on them. These individuals are often classified as Blocked, Unverified or Denied Persons by the nation governing its export rules. The U.S. Commerce Department maintains a list of these persons, and exporters can often determine whether an individual they want to export items to is on these lists. It is illegal to export goods to blocked or denied persons. If an exporter verifies the identity of a person designated as Unverified, and that person is not determined to be a threat to the host country, goods can then be exported to them.

An export restriction can be levied against foreign nations as a form of economic sanction. U.S. exporters are typically banned from shipping any goods to nations such as Cuba, Iran or North Korea. In other cases, nations will impose economic restrictions on a foreign nation. In this case, most items are restricted from being exported to those countries, but food, medicine and humanitarian aid can still be shipped. In other cases, an export restriction is sometimes lifted by governments in order to facilitate economic or governmental change within enemy nations. For example, the United States agreed to let exporters ship Internet technology to Iran, Sudan and Cuba in 2010, in hopes that Internet access and the free flow of information would help facilitate regime change in those nations.

Certain types of items may have export restriction imposed on them. Electronic components and computers are typically restricted from being shipped to certain nations or individuals, because these items can be disassembled and reassembled for certain military uses. Items related to telecommunications, navigation and propulsion systems are also heavily regulated by national export laws. The amount of these goods exported, the individual or nation they’re being exported to and the intended use of the goods must often be documented with the government before they can be exported.


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