How to judge which exports might potentially be of concern on end-use grounds.


This guidance is intended to help you judge which of your exports might potentially be of concern on end-use grounds. It can help you make better informed decisions on whether to contact the Export Control Organisation (ECO) for a rating enquiry and how to avoid export licensing problems.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missiles for their delivery pose a very serious threat to global stability. A wide range of industrial items and materials can assist WMD programmes. The most critical items appear on the UK Strategic Export Control Lists, which specify goods that are ‘controlled’ for export purposes. However, there are also many less sensitive items which may be licensable if used in a WMD programme.

The UK government has the power to make such items licensable on a one-off basis when they might be used for ‘WMD purposes’. These powers are controlled by the End-Use Control in the Export Control Order 2008. This is a one of two ‘catch-all’ controls, which licences items not formally specified on the Control Lists, the other being the Military End-Use Control.

Before exporting you should refer to the legal provisions in force at the time. Where legal advice is required, exporters should make their own arrangements.

Checking your exports for weapons of mass destruction items

If you know, or suspect, that your export will be used in a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme or in a WMD delivery system, then you have a legal obligation to contact the Export Control Organisation (ECO) and apply for an export licence.

The WMD End-Use Control can in theory be applied in a very wide range of cases where an end user is involved in WMD in a country outside the European Union (EU). In practice, it is applied sparingly. As an exporter, the ECO are aware that you want predictability. However, this is not always possible because of the diverse nature of WMD programmes, the goods sought and the methods used to acquire them. However, the ECO is committed to putting information in the public domain to stop export licensing problems in conducting your business.

Reasons for WMD End-Use Controls

The general effectiveness of national export licensing systems has made it harder for WMD programmes to acquire controlled items. This has sometimes forced potential proliferators to seek equivalent non-controlled goods, which often fall just outside the technical parameters of export control legislation. Also, WMD programmes need to procure items for the overall development of the programme - such as electronics and production equipment - which are not in themselves particularly sensitive and do not normally require an export licence.

As a result, the UK government - in common with other EU countries and members of the international export control regimes - has powers to make items licensable on a one-off basis under the ‘end-use’ or ‘catch-all’ control.

This guidance does not cover the more specialised and associated guidance on the transfer of technology by any means or the provision of technical assistance. You can get further information on the:

Invoking the weapons of mass destruction End-Use Control

If the Export Control Organisation (ECO) is concerned that a shipment will be used in a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme or in a WMD delivery system, they will make a decision on:

  • whether to ‘invoke’ End-Use Control - ie the shipments will require an export licence
  • whether to issue or refuse an export licence

The ECO invokes the control when they become aware that a shipment is being made to an end user about whom they have concerns. This could either be in response to an exporter enquiry made to the ECO or via the ECO’s own information channels.

If the ECO invokes the control, they will give the export a Licence Required on End-Use Grounds (LR-End) rating. They can invoke the control at any time before the goods leave the UK. For example, HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) will sometimes detain shipments at a port and consult the ECO on whether an export licence is required.

You should also remember that if you know - or have grounds for suspecting - an intended WMD end-use, you are legally obliged to notify the ECO.

End-User advice request

If you already know that your goods are not listed on a UK Strategic Export Control List, but have concerns about the end-use of your export, then you can request advice from the ECO’s End-User Advice Service. This is an advisory service which provides exporters with an indication of whether an export is licensable on end-use grounds. For more details see the guide on strategic exports: when to request an export licence.

If you are advised to apply for a licence, then you will subsequently have to apply for a licence via SPIRE.

You should note that any advice issued by the ECO’s End-User Advice Service is subject to change and is not an indefinite guarantee. If you have previously received advice under the WMD End-Use Control, this advice only applies:

  • for that specific export
  • to that specific end user
  • only at the time of the application

If the ECO does invoke the end-use control, they will inform you formally by letter or email that you require an export licence before exporting the goods.

Refusals under the WMD End-Use Control

The UK Strategic Export Controls Annual Report details the number of refusals under the WMD End-Use Control. For example, between 2002 and 2004, the ECO refused 270 licences on WMD end-use control grounds.

You can access the ECO’s Reports and Statistics website to run bespoke reports on licensing statistics or to download the latest quarterly reports.

Points to note about invoking the End-Use Control

You should note that:

  • invocation of the End-Use Control does not always lead to refusal, so you should not be discouraged from pursuing a licence application
  • if in a future case, for the same or similar goods to the same end-user, you do not apply for advice but apply directly for an export licence, and, if advisers continue to take the view that there are no WMD concerns, then the End-Use Control will not be invoked and the goods will be assessed as being NLR (because they are not on the Control List and the exporter has not been informed)
  • almost identical applications can therefore result in different ratings (NLR/LR-End - licence approved) though the substantive outcomes are the same - in other words, the export can proceed. This is a feature of the way the law works rather than an inconsistency by the ECO
  • it is also possible for different substantive decisions to be taken in respect of similar goods because either the goods are going to a different end-user or new information has come to light about the use/utility of the goods

Assessing applications for exports with potential weapons of mass destruction end-use

Once the Export Control Organisation (ECO) has invoked the End-Use Control, it has to assess whether to grant or refuse a licence.

The ECO does this on the same case-by-case basis as for ‘controlled’ goods which always require a licence. The ECO will assess the risk of weapon of mass destruction (WMD) end-use in relation to your proposed export, taking into account the circumstances of each case. This risk assessment is based on detailed consideration of several questions, including:

  • does the end-user country definitely, probably or possibly have a WMD or delivery system programme?
  • are the items potentially of high, medium or low utility in relation to any of the activities listed in the WMD End-Use Control?
  • are the items potentially of high, medium or low utility in relation to any WMD programme in the end-user country, namely: ‘use in connection with the development, production, handling, operation, maintenance, storage, detection, identification or dissemination of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, or the development, production, maintenance or storage of missiles capable of delivering such weapons.’
  • are the items relevant to identified procurement requirements of such a WMD programme, either in the destination country or, where the destination country is known or suspected of being involved in passing on WMD-related items to a third country, in any of the suspected end-use countries?
  • is the end user, exporter, or any third parties to the transaction known to be of concern?
  • if the end user is not known at all, then any doubts about them could be sufficient to justify refusal of a licence.
  • are there diversionary concerns in relation to any of the parties?
  • is the stated end-use credible - bearing in mind that a credible end-use will not necessarily preclude a risk of actual use in connection with WMD?

The overall level of risk is assessed, considering the answers to the questions and any other relevant information.

Based on these risk considerations, if the ECO thinks it is likely to be used in a WMD programme of concern, they will refuse a licence. The ECO aims to complete the assessment within 20 working days of receipt of an application. Sensitive or complicated cases can take longer.

Download the Export Control Organisation’s Service and Performance Code

You can also download a copy of the agreed UK licensing criteria. For more information, see the guide on assessment of export licence applications: criteria and policy.

Goods and destinations of concern

If your export is a shipment of goods of concern or to a destination of concern, it may be refused under the end-use control.

Goods of concern

Any goods could potentially be of concern. In practice, it tends to be those at a higher level of technical specification which fall within the international non-proliferation regime control lists and guidelines, including the:

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

This is not a hard and fast rule however, and any items may potentially be refused under the controls.

The control does not only apply to exports which may be used directly in a weapon or missile but also ‘in connection with’. This might include:

  • goods that could be used in the development of the infrastructure of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD)
  • programme research and development programmes at universities
  • unsafeguarded civil nuclear reactors - where a risk of diversion of fissile material exists
  • civil space programmes which may also be involved in ballistic missile development

This guide contains a general description of goods for which the Export Control Organisation (ECO) have refused export licences on end-use grounds since 2002.

Destinations of concern

End-use licences to these and other destinations have also been required and approved where - after consideration - the government decided there was no risk of diversion to a WMD programme.

Other countries which historically were of concern, but for which there are no refusals listed, have been subject to embargoes and, therefore, there has been no licensable trade. Government policy is kept under review and adapted to changing circumstances.

Procurement for WMD programmes is usually made through entities which are seemingly involved in civilian activities and very often have legitimate non-WMD businesses.

This poses problems in sectors including nuclear power generation, the oil and gas industry, research laboratories, pharmaceuticals and precision engineering where legitimate operations may provide a source of equipment for military programmes. Sometimes, equipment is also procured through trading companies or individuals based in a different country to the one where the WMD programme is located.

The ECO does not generally publish information about the end users of goods for which an export licence has been refused on end-use grounds, except for Iran. For more information, see the page in this guide on applications for Iran - ‘the Iran List’. However, exporters can submit a rating enquiry for guidance about whether the ECO has concerns with an export to a particular end user.

Applications for Iran - ‘the Iran List’

Despite the guidance available about the types of goods and destinations which could potentially be of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) concern, it is recognised that exporters will often not be in a position to know that an end user or other party to an export transaction may be involved in a WMD programme.

Given the current concerns about Iran in particular, the Export Control Organisation (ECO) feels it would be useful to provide more specific information about end users in that country. In this context, the ECO has made a list of Iranian entities publicly available for the information of exporters.

This list is intended to help you judge which exports might potentially be of concern on end-use grounds, based on previous licensing decisions. This information may be factored into your business planning and help you to make informed decisions on whether to contact the ECO. The list may be amended from time-to-time and should be checked regularly if you are planning business with Iran.

Download the Iran List - WMD End-Use Control.

Making a suspicious enquiry on your exports

If you know, or suspect, that your export will be used in a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme or in a WMD delivery system, then you have a legal obligation to contact the Export Control Organisation (ECO) and apply for an export licence.

The following examples of suspicious situations could help you spot whether your export may be used in WMD programmes:

  • the customer is reluctant to offer information about the end-use of the items
  • the customer asks that the goods be transferred to a forwarding address in the UK
  • the customer is reluctant to provide clear answers to commercial or technical questions which are normal in routine negotiations
  • an unconvincing explanation is given as to why the items are required, in view of the customer’s normal business or the technical sophistication of the items
  • routine installation, training or maintenance services are declined
  • unusually favourable payment terms such as higher price and/or lump-sum cash payment are offered
  • unusual shipping, packaging or labelling arrangements are requested
  • the customer is new to you and your knowledge about him/her is incomplete
  • the installation site is an area under strict security control or is an area to which access is severely restricted, or is unusual in view of the type of equipment being installed
  • there are unusual requirements for excessive confidentiality about final destinations, or customers, or specifications of items
  • there are requests for excessive spare parts or lack of interest in any spare parts
  • the dealer you are selling to is new to you, or has been evasive about customers
  • the customer or end user is a military or government research body
  • the order itself is unusual in any way, eg the quantity or performance capabilities of the goods ordered significantly exceed, without satisfactory explanation, the amount or performance normally required for the stated end use

Goods for which export licences have been refused on weapons of mass destruction end-use grounds since 2002

Although this is not a definitive list, the following listing provides a guide to the type of goods which have previously been refused an export licence on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) end-use grounds.

Types of goods previously refused export licence on WMD end-use grounds

Nuclear Missile Chemical & Biological Weapons
Ceramic materials Accelerometers Biotechnology equipment
Chemical processing equipment A to D converter Chemical agent detection
Cryogenic equipment Aero engines Electrical switching equipment
Dimensional measurement and inspection equipment Aircraft naval equipment Environmental test equipment
Electrical/electronic components Air data test system Filtration equipment
Environmental test equipment Ceramic materials Chemical processing pilot plant
Flow measurement equipment Chemicals  
Gas purification equipment Cranes  
General laboratory equipment Design and manufacturing software  
Image intensifying tubes Dimensional measurement and inspection equipment  
Industrial generators Electric motors  
M/C tools and fabrication equipment Electrical/electronic components  
Materials processing equipment Electronic test equipment  
Materials test and analysis equipment Explosives and propellants  
Non-ferrous metals Ferrous metals  
Particle counters Fibrous/filamentary materials  
Process control equipment Flow measurement equipment  
Pumps Gas purification equipment  
Vacuum equipment General laboratory equipment  
Valves Gyros  
  Hydraulic fluids  
  M/C tools and fabrication equipment  
  Materials processing equipment  
  Materials test and analysis equipment  
  Microwave equipment  
  Non-ferrous metals  
  Pneumatic systems  
  Pressure test equipment  
  Process control equipment  
  Recording equipment  
  Vacuum equipment  
  Vibration test equipment  
  Wind tunnels  

Further information

BIS ECO Helpline

020 7215 4594 or email

Subscribe to the Export Control Organisation’s Notices to Exporters

Access the ECO Reports and Statistics website

Wassenaar Arrangement (WA) information on the WA website

The Australia Group (AG) information on the AG website

Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) information on the MTCR website

Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) information on the NSG website