Overview of export control legislation

Guidance for exporters on the various areas of export control legislation, including international regimes and treaties.

This guide provides an overview of the different aspects of export control legislation. It also provides a brief introduction to the background policies, and international regimes and treaties which affect strategic licensing decisions on a day-to-day basis.

The UK’s export control laws for ‘strategic goods’ (military or dual-use items) are defined in the UK’s parliamentary statutory legislation. As with other areas of the UK’s legislative system, UK export control legislation is derived from both European Union law (which has direct effect in all EU countries, including the UK) and national UK law. The main UK legislation is called the Export Control Act 2002 and the associated order is the Export Control Order 2008. This outlines not only definitions and interpretation but also the practical and legal requirements that you need to meet, such as record-keeping and compliance requirements.

The legislation also comprises the UK Strategic Export Control Lists, which underpin export control law by providing a list of controlled items. It is therefore important that you are aware of the relevant legislation and associated guidance.

European Union and UK statutory legislation

Statutory law is derived from 2 aspects:

  • EU law - which has direct effect within all EU member states’ separate legal systems (including the UK) and overrides national law
  • UK national law - which is specific to the UK legal system

As an exporter, you need to be aware of the following EU legislation, which is directly applicable in the UK:

  • the EU Dual-Use Regulation (also known as Council Regulation (EC) No 428/2009), as amended - see the guide on controls on dual-use goods
  • the EU Regulation on Torture (also known as Regulation (EC) No 1236/2005), as amended - see the guide on controls on torture goods

You should also be aware of the following specific UK legislation:

The Export Control Act 2002 underwent an extensive review in 2007/8. This resulted in the introduction of the consolidating Export Control Order 2008.

A summary of the UK’s legislation is available in the guide on strategic export control legislation: amending orders and regulations.

Other essential elements of the UK’s export control legislation - the Control Lists and End-Use Controls

The UK Strategic Export Control Lists

These are important documents which comprise an essential part of the legislation. They are a list of controlled items, which indicate if a product needs an export licence (listed under a ‘control entry heading’ or ‘rating’. The Control Lists comprise several different parts, including:

  • the UK Military List
  • the EU Dual-Use List

Read more and download latest versions of the UK Strategic Export Control Lists

End-Use controls

Even if an item is not listed on the Control Lists, you may still require an export licence as a result of End-Use controls. These are so called ‘catch-all’ controls where there are concerns about the end user. End-Use controls fall into 2 categories - Military End-Use Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) End-Use Control.

Check if your goods are on a Control List or controlled on the basis of ‘End-Use’

If you are unsure whether your goods are listed on the UK Strategic Control Lists, you are recommended to view the guidance about strategic exports: when to request an export licence. This guide includes information about self-rating your goods, using the Goods Checker database or the Control List Classification Search Tool or alternatively making a Control List Classification Service or End-User Advice Service request via the SPIRE export licensing database.

The Control List Classification Advice Service is suspended until further notice. Please refer to Notice to Exporters 2014/16 for more information.

Background policies which underpin the UK’s export control legislation

In a globally integrated world, efficient export controls are only possible with co-operation at a European and international level. The UK’s Export Control Organisation (ECO) is therefore a member of several international treaties, export control regimes and agreements. These form the basis of the UK’s existing and evolving export control policies.

Licence decision-making

The UK government is a party to internationally agreed criteria governing the export of arms and military equipment. These are:

All licence applications to export arms and other goods controlled for strategic reasons are considered in relation to the criteria on a case-by-case basis. Read more about the export control licensing process and how to appeal

International regimes and agreements

The UK participates in a number of export control regimes. Each regime maintains a list of controlled goods and technology which is discussed and updated regularly. These agreed lists are then incorporated into each country’s different legislation and respective Control Lists.

Read more about the international non-prolieration and arms control regimes.

Further information on strategic export law and policy

To keep informed about latest updates to legislation and other export control related issues, you should subscribe to the ECO’s Notices to Exporters.

Further information

Read Export controls: an introductory guide.

BIS ECO Helpline

020 7215 4594

Subscribe to the Export Control Organisation’s Notices to Exporters

Register of Conventional Arms information on the UNODA website

Download the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports from the Council of the EU website (PDF, 65K)