An overview of the Export Control Act 2002 - the main UK legislation on export controls on military and dual-use goods.
The Export Control Act 2002 was brought into force on 1 May 2004. The Act is the main UK legislation on export controls on military and dual-use goods.
The Act replaced the export control powers contained within the Import, Export and Customs Powers (Defence) Act 1939 legislation on strategic export controls and, among other things, provides for a more transparent framework and increased Parliamentary accountability.
This guide gives an overview of the Act and secondary legislation introduced under it. It also provides links to further information on export control.
The text of the Export Control Act 2002
The Explanatory Notes spell out the intent of the Act and the powers that it gives to the Export Control Organisation (ECO), part of the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS), in its administration of strategic export controls. It also describes the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which up until mid-2005 was responsible for running the administration for the control of the export of objects of cultural interest. This job is now being done by the Arts Council..
Orders made under the Export Control Act 2002
The Export Control Act 2002 also gives powers to extend the controls. The UK government introduced secondary legislation, which came into force at the same time as the Act, consolidating the previous secondary legislation and imposing a new range of controls. This secondary legislation has since been reviewed and amended.
These Acts originally resulted in four Orders which were the:
- Export of Goods, Transfer of Technology and Provision of Technical Assistance (Control) Order 2003 or ‘Main Order’
- Trade in Goods (Control) Order 2003
- Trade in Controlled Goods (Embargoed Destinations) Order 2004
- Technical Assistance Control Regulations 2006
Following a review of the legislation in 2007 to 2008, these Orders were consolidated into a single Order - the Export Control Order 2008 (which came into force on 6 April 2009).
The Export Control Order 2008 is now the main legislation controlling:
- the export of strategic goods, the transfer of technology and the provision of technical assistance
- trade in goods - including not only physical export items but also trade in military or Dual-Use items between overseas countries
- trade with countries subject to non-binding sanctions and embargoes introduced by the UN, the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and implemented in the UK
Since the Order was introduced on 6 April 2009, updates have been in the form of small amendments and changes to the Control Lists. You can view a summary of the amendments in our guide on strategic export control legislation: amending orders and regulation.
In addition, UK export control legislation also specifically controls the exports of certain high-activity radioactive sources (which are defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources). This order is the Export of Radioactive Sources (Control) Order 2006. For more information, see the guide to controls on radioactive sources.
Regulatory Impact Assessments (RIAs) must be completed for all UK policy changes, which could affect the public or private sectors, charities, the voluntary sector or small businesses.Download the final RIA of the Export Control Act 2002 and read more about better regulation.
Government scrutiny of export control legislation
Any proposed changes to legislation are examined by the parliament’s Committees on Arms Export Controls (previously the Quad Committee).
The committee is responsible for examining the annual and quarterly reports on export controls and holds the ECO to account. For information, see our guide about the Export Control Organisation: an overview.
What the Export Control Act 2002 means in practical terms for exporters
The controls under the Export Control Act 2002 have a wide focus. Exporters need to be aware of their scope and have systems in place to ensure that they have an appropriate licence for their controlled exports or trade activities.
What is controlled?
In practical terms the Export Control Act 2002 controls:
- electronic transfers of technology and software for military goods
- transfers, by any means, of technology related to Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) or trade activities
- technical assistance in connection with a WMD programme
- trade (trafficking and brokering) in military, paramilitary and certain other goods between countries outside the UK (some trade controls apply to UK persons anywhere in the world, as well as to activities carried out wholly or partly in the UK)
- trade in military and certain other goods from any place outside the UK to specified destinations where either Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), European Union (EU), non-binding United Nations (UN) and national UK embargoes are in force
- exports of certain high-activity radioactive sources
There are other controls imposed as a result of EU legislation on dual-use goods and torture goods. Find further information in the guides on controls on dual-use goods (EU Dual-Use Regulation) and controls on torture goods.
If your goods are subject to export controls you will need an export licence.
The UK’s system of export licensing aims to balance meeting the UK’s international arms control obligations and concerns with meeting the needs of industry. This is reflected in the Open General Licensing system.
The UK maintains a range of Open General Export Licences (OGELs), which licence less sensitive transactions and goods that are still controlled but do not require an individual licence. The range of OGELs was extended as a result of the Export Control Act 2002. There are currently over 40 different types of OGEL which an exporter might be entitled to use (subject to adhering to the outlined licence terms and conditions). See our guide about Open General Licences: an overview.
If OGELs do not provide appropriate licence coverage for exports, a Standard or Open Individual Export Licence application will need to be made. Find out more in our guides on Standard Individual Export Licences (SIELs) and Open Individual Export Licences (OIELs).
All applications are judged on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated Criteria. See our guide on assessment of export licence applications - criteria and policy.
Compliance and record keeping
There are broad, minimum legal requirements for record keeping of export shipments covered by both export and trade controls. All exporters are advised to have systems in place to train staff and monitor licensable activities.
The ECO audits the use of OGELs via a continuous programme of compliance visits. For more information, see our guide on compliance and enforcement of export controls.
Review of Export Control Legislation 2007
In line with Cabinet Office Better Regulation principles, the ECO launched a review of the export control legislation introduced in 2004 under the Export Control Act 2002. The review was launched on 18 June 2007. The public consultation period ended on 30 September 2007. The government then published its initial response on 6 February 2008 followed by a progress update in January 2009.
The review resulted in the following legislative changes:
- introduction of changes to control the export and trading of ‘sting sticks’
- introduction of new extra-territorial trade controls on small arms, Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADs) and cluster munitions
- changes to the structure of trade controls with the implementation of a three tier categorisation of goods
- new guidance on transport controls
- introduction of the consolidating order - the Export Control Order 2008 (implemented on 6 April 2009)
Where to find further guidance on export controls
Export controls - which are caught under the Export Control Act 2002 and European Union export legislation - impact on a wide range of goods. Some of the types of items controlled will be obvious - such as military goods - others less so. You should also bear in mind that the controls are not limited to actual physical goods - intangible ‘electronic’ transfers are also controlled. For an overview of the controls read export controls: an introductory guide.
Goods are controlled for two main reasons:
- because they are listed on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists or on a specific Sanctions List as a result of current arms embargoes and other restrictions..
- because they controlled under either the Military End-Use Control or Weapons of Mass Destruction End-Use Control.
If you are unsure whether your goods are listed on a Control List, you should consult the guide strategic exports: when to request an export licence.
Further advice and updates
The ECO runs a comprehensive programme of strategic export control training for exporters.
To keep informed about legislative changes, you should subscribe to the ECO’s Notices to Exporters.
The ECO also provide a telephone and email helpline for general help and advice. Find ECO contact details on the BIS website.
BIS ECO Helpline
020 7215 4594