A wide range of items including goods designed for a military purpose and some commercial goods are controlled under export licence legislation administered by the Export Control Organisation (ECO), part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). ECO also regulates the export of certain dual-use goods - commercial items that have the potential to be used for military purposes or terrorism. These include:

  • components from the aviation or telecommunications industries
  • certain chemicals
  • information security products like encryption software
  • radioactive materials

ECO also regulates the export of goods that could be used for capital punishment, torture, or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment as well as other goods subject to sanction or embargo like imports or Iranian oil.


If you are exporting or trading in controlled items you will need a licence issued by the ECO.

Whether a licence is required depends on various factors, eg whether the items are:

Goods passing through the UK

ECO applies the same rules to goods passing through UK ports or airports (transit and transhipments) as they do for exports from the UK.

Trade outside the UK

ECO also controls the trade in certain military and dual-use items outside the UK, if a UK citizen or UK company is involved. This regulation is known as ‘trade controls’.

End-use control

If ECO suspects any commercial goods (even if not listed on the Control Lists) will be used for the production of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or for other military purposes, it can make them licensable.

Taking decisions on export licence applications

The Export Control Organisation (ECO) assesses export licence applications for controlled strategic exports. We assess each application against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The government updates the law on export and trade controls regularly to reflect changes in the government’s foreign and security policy and international development goals. For information about these changes subscribe to Notices to Exporters

Who we’re working with

ECO is part of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). ECO works with other government departments as part of the licence decision making process

These departments include:

  • the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) – on human rights issues
  • Ministry of Defence (MOD) – on military capability
  • the Department for International Development (DFID) - on development issues
  • the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – on energy, nuclear and chemicals issues

We also work with industry trade associations like the Export Group for Aerospace and Defence (EGAD) and the Joint Electronics & Telecommunications Security Exports Coordinating Committee (JETSECC), a policy forum on legislation with particular emphasis on dual-use exports.

Enforcing our decisions

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC), Border Force (BF) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) work together to enforce the UK’s strategic export and trade controls and sanctions and embargoes.

HMRC has a policy unit which develops and manages enforcement policy. Staff at HMRC’s National Clearance Hub undertake checks on customs export and import declarations and supporting documentation – including checking BIS export licences – to ensure appropriate risk assessment is undertaken.

BF officers carry out physical examinations of cargo at ports and airports to detain, disrupt and seize unlicensed or sanctions-breaching goods. These seizures can result in criminal investigations by HMRC.

If exports of military or dual use goods are detected without an export licence, this may result in a prosecution being brought through the Central Fraud Group within the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).