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Embargo (from Spanish embargo , “seizure”, “garnishment”) in foreign trade and foreign trade policy is the official prohibition on the export and / or import of goods and services to or from a certain state .


An embargo violates generally prevailing free trade . It is a non-tariff barrier to trade because it prohibits the export and / or import of certain goods / services. Embargoes can affect certain goods and / or certain countries and are intended to prevent these goods from being exported to these countries ( export ban ) or imported from these countries into the country ( import ban ). Embargoes are usually intended as reprisals , retaliation or sanctions on (alleged) misconduct by these countries in order to punish violations of international law or to force or prevent the state from taking certain actions. An import ban (import ban) in foreign trade is the ban on importing certain goods or services from abroad into the home country, an export ban (export ban) prohibits the export of goods or services from within Germany to other countries.


Many embargo concerning the export ban of specific goods, such as the grain embargo (supply of grain ), oil embargo ( petroleum ) or arms embargo ( military weapons ). The shipping embargo is the seizure of foreign merchant ships in order to put pressure on the flag state. The most common trade embargo is the prohibition issued by one or more states to maintain economic relations with a sanctioned state . An import and export ban is intended to force the affected state to change its policy .

The content and scope of the embargoes issued can vary widely; an embargo can contain a variety of prohibitions and / or restrictions. Depending on the scope of the restrictions, a distinction can be made between two types of embargo, the total embargo and the partial embargo . Rarely occurring total embargoes are comprehensive bans on foreign trade, mostly they only allow exceptions for humanitarian purposes. Partial embargoes, on the other hand, contain restrictions and prohibitions that only apply to certain economic sectors and only prohibit or restrict certain actions. Their best-known form are the arms embargoes. Embargo regulations not only limit the export or import of goods, but also merchanting or payment transactions ( payment bans ) and intervene in the conclusion and performance of contracts.

Legal issues

The legal basis for export bans is Section 74 AWV , exceptions are provided in Section 76 AWV and Section 76a AWV. Import bans are listed in Section 77 AWV. There, import and export boats are linked to a transport ban. The competent approval authority is the Federal Office of Economics and Export Control (BAFA).

However, export and import bans do not only concern embargoes, but are generally issued by states to enforce species protection and the protection of cultural assets . International trade with this is either prohibited or requires a permit. The import and export of species protected on the basis of the Washington Convention on the Protection of Species is regulated in Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 ; Annex A of these provides for a marketing ban for certain animal and plant species . Permits from the importing and exporting country in the form of a CITES document are required for import and export. An export and import ban for cultural goods results from § 21 KGSG and § 28 KGSG. The legal terms export and import bans are therefore broader than the embargo.

The submission of a boycott declaration in foreign trade through which a resident participates in a boycott against another state is prohibited according to § 7 AWV, unless it is one by the Security Council of the United Nations according to Chapter VII of the Charter the United Nations , the Council of the European Union within the framework of Chapter 2 of the Treaty on European Union ( TFEU ) or through this the Federal Republic of Germany acts as a sanction measure.

In Germany , an embargo restricts freedom in foreign trade with certain countries or with certain people. In Germany, embargoes are issued by the respective federal government . The embargoes imposed by Germany and the European Union are published in the Federal Gazette and the Official Journal of the European Union . The Customs also carries about an (incomplete) list of imposed embargo under zoll.de . Germany draws up its own export list and also follows the decisions of international organizations ( UN , EU or OSCE ).


Embargoes were already known in ancient times. For example, the Hittite great king Tudḫalija IV (approx. 1237–1215 / 09 BC) instructed Šaušgamuwa , the vassal king of Amurru (in today's Syria), not to allow Assyrian traders to reach Amurru any more and to forbid Amurrit traders to sell goods to bring to Assyria . Ships from Aḫḫijawa should also no longer be able to trade with Assyria (via the ports of Amurrus).

In classical antiquity , Pericles issued a decree against the Megarics in 432 BC for the kidnapping of his wife Aspasia and imposed a trade ban on Megara . Herakleios the Elder issued a grain embargo against Constantinople in 606 AD .

In the Middle Ages , Pope Urban IV successfully enforced embargoes against Florence and Siena in 1261 . After taking Acre in May 1291, Pope Nicholas IV imposed a trade embargo and forbade travel to Jerusalem. In 1299, Genoa, which dominates maritime trade in the eastern Mediterranean, issued a general trade embargo against the Venetian Cyprus . Cologne was "banished" by the recession of August 24, 1470 with effect from February 22, 1471, ie excluded from the Hanseatic League and subjected to a total trade embargo, but was allowed to re-enter in 1476. In May 1585 Philip II imposed a Spanish trade embargo on England and forbade all English ships to call at the ports of his world empire.

The term embargo has only been applied to the foreign policy-motivated ban on foreign trade since the beginning of the 19th century. The continental blockade of November 1806 against England brought with it a trade embargo and was intended to force England to negotiate with France.

In modern times there were a total of 11 embargoes between 1911 and 1940. Until the beginning of the First World War , the German Reich imported about 1/3 of its food from abroad and was at that time the world's largest importer of agricultural products . Great Britain imposed a trade embargo on the German Reich at the beginning of World War I (and operated a sea ​​blockade ). This later led to a famine in large parts of the empire (see turnip winter ).

The USSR's sanctions against Eastern Bloc states in order to overthrow rebellious governments failed against Yugoslavia in 1948 , against China in 1960 and against Albania in 1961 . The Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 began with a sea ​​blockade that lasted until November 1962. This was followed by an embargo by the United States against Cuba , some of which is still in force today. The tube embargo of NATO against the Soviet bloc in December 1962, tied the export of large-diameter pipes for the construction of gas and oil pipelines almost completely. Against South Africa in 1962 and 1964 by the United Nations General Assembly and 1977 by the United Nations Security Council impose an arms embargo. The best-known embargo was the OPEC delivery boycott of 1973. At that time, OPEC named political influence as its goal ; After this boycott - which resulted in an economic crisis in all industrialized countries - the price level of oil remained significantly higher than before (which could also have been a goal). In response to the Tehran hostage-taking in November 1979, Iranian bank balances were blocked in the USA . As a result of the USSR's war in Afghanistan , the United States issued a grain embargo against them in 1980 . Even a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Moscow did not help to end the war in Afghanistan. The COCOM high-tech embargo of western industrialized countries against the Eastern Bloc lasted from 1950 to 1990. The Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in August 1990 resulted in United Nations sanctions; In 1991, after the second Gulf War, they imposed an extensive embargo on Iraq . It existed for about 13 years and was overturned after the fall of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein .

Between 1984 and 1994 various states increased the pressure on the South African government to end the apartheid policy by means of economic sanctions. Today it is clear that the sanctions did not trigger any political transformation in South Africa , as it was able to exist relatively self-sufficiently at a comparatively high economic standard. This was used by the racist think tank SABRA as an ideological justification for the socio-economic concept of apartheid that is based on it. From May 1991 sanctions against the rest of Yugoslavia and an arms embargo against Bosnia took place . An oil and arms embargo hit Haiti in May 1993 because of a military coup . Since 2006 there has been an embargo for dual-use goods against North Korea and Iran . From January 2007, the Russian-Belarusian energy dispute escalated with a multi-day stoppage of oil transport through Belarus. The Crimean crisis in March 2014 led to extensive sanctions against Russia .

economic aspects

Embargoes are aimed at weakening the economies of the affected states in general so that they can remove the causes of the embargo. The effectiveness of an embargo is very limited, however, because some states do not support the embargo and thus counteract the embargo objective. An extensive US study from 1990 examined 120 sanctions between 1914 and 1990 and came to the conclusion that 65.8% (79 cases) were a failure, i.e. missed the sanction target. Only 34.2% achieved the success hoped for with the sanction. A successful military weakening through arms embargoes occurred in only 20% of the cases, while destabilization strategies with economic sanctions were successful in 52%. Of 80 trade embargoes examined, only 37.5% of the cases caused economic damage of more than 1% of the gross national product .

In the context of export credit insurance , the embargo is usually covered as part of the manufacturing risk . If this is not the case, the embargo is not insured as force majeure . However, this usually does not lead to losses for the exporter because in the event of force majeure he does not have to pay and the importer does not have to deliver.

A typical reaction to an embargo is to seek greater self-sufficiency by improving self-sufficiency and increasing the level of self-sufficiency . Another reaction is retaliation (see also Tit for Tat ). However, this is difficult or impossible in raw material-poor countries.


In international law , collective measures according to Art. 39 ff. UN Charter are referred to as UN measures which require a resolution by the UN Security Council and a corresponding UN mandate . These sanctions therefore always concern behavior that is contrary to international law. In particular in the Anglo-American and French-speaking areas, the sanction is used synonymously for an embargo. The embargo is an important subset of the sanctions and historically has always been directed against states or groups of states. A boycott , on the other hand, comes more from the private sector and is mostly passive (voluntary waiver), an embargo is state decreed and active (prohibition and enforcement), both of which concern undesirable or unfriendly behavior by states. The Arab League , for example, called its full trade embargo on Israel a boycott. The blockade can only be enforced by military means and, unlike the embargo, is carried out outside of one's own territory .

Other meanings

With embargo is also referred to a lock-up period for the publication of a message or information. In librarianship, the term is used in relation to electronic journals when, for example, a library only has access to certain journal editions as part of a database subscription after a certain period after publication or when a journal makes its articles freely accessible after a certain period .

See also

Literature / web links

Wiktionary: Embargo  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden (ed.): Compact Lexicon International Economy. 2013, p. 120. (books.google.de)
  2. Sophie Mathäß: stateless and the impact of personal embargo measures on private legal relations. 2015, p. 25.
  3. ^ Henning C. Schneider: Economic sanctions. 1999, p. 35.
  4. ^ Markus Diehl: Trade embargo. In: Thomas Plümper (Ed.): Lexicon of international economic relations. 1996, p. 136. (books.google.de)
  5. list of embargoed countries. Zoll.de; accessed on December 28, 2016.
  6. on this document, the so-called Šaušsgamuwa Treaty , s. in detail: Gary M. Beckman, Trevor R. Bryce , Eric H. Cline : The Ahhiyawa Texts (= Writings from the Ancient World 28). Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta 2011, ISBN 978-1-58983-268-8 , pp. 50-68.
  7. Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Kimberley Ann Elliott: Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and current policy. Volume 1, 1990, p. 4. (books.google.de)
  8. Hans Bauer: Journey to the golden Byzantium. 1982, p. 123.
  9. Negotiations of the German Bundestag, printed matter , Volume 299, 1983, p. 15.
  10. Middle Ages Center Greifswald (Ed.): Strangeness and Travel in the Middle Ages. 1997, p. 67.
  11. Jürgen Wilhelm (Ed.): The great Cologne Lexicon. 2008, p. 198.
  12. ^ Heinz Neukirchen: Sea power in the mirror of history. 1982, p. 167.
  13. ^ Rolf H. Hasse: Theory and Politics of the Embargo. 1973, p. 106.
  14. Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Kimberley Ann Elliott: Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and current policy. Volume 1, 1990, p. 5.
  15. The fight in the kitchens . In: Spiegel special . March 30, 2004.
  16. Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Kimberley Ann Elliott: Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and current policy. Volume 1, 1990, p. 7.
  17. Ulrich Albrecht, Helmut Volger (Ed.): Lexicon of International Politics. 1997, p. 119. (books.google.de)
  18. Sanctions against Iraq obsolete? In: Wiener Zeitung. April 18, 2003; accessed April 14, 2015.
  19. Matthias Gensicke, Between Persistence and Change. The Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in the process of upheaval in South Africa (1990-1999) , 2007, p. 114
  20. ^ SABRA (Ed.), South Africa in the African Continent, 1959, p. 35
  21. Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Jeffrey J. Schott, Kimberley Ann Elliott: Economic Sanctions Reconsidered: History and current policy. Volume 1, 1990, p. 92 ff.
  22. Markus Heizmann: The secret war - sanctions, embargoes, blockades. 2020, p. 14. (books.google.de)
  23. Marian Niestedt, in: Horst Günter Kenzler, Christoph Herrmann (ed.): EU foreign trade and customs law. October 2018, chap. 50, marginal no. 2.
  24. ^ Henning C. Schneider: Economic sanctions. 1999, p. 35 ff.
  25. ^ Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden (ed.): Compact Lexicon International Economy. 2013, p. 120.