Embargo definition

An embargo is a state-ordered ban on foreign trade with a certain country or certain persons (or groups of persons). This prevents the import and export of goods and services.

Where does the term come from?
The term comes from Spanish: Embargo means seizure/attachment.

General information and interesting facts

Why are they imposed?
An embargo stops the free trade that was previously in place. It is a non-tariff trade barrier as it prohibits the trade of certain goods and services. The resulting export and import ban affect the market access of foreign suppliers. Most often, they are used as a reprisal or sanction to punish wrongdoing such as a violation of international law. It is also used to compel a state to act a certain way or deter it from it. Personal embargoes are independent of countries and are often used to fight terrorism.


Who issues an embargo in Germany/abroad?
Usually, they are initiated by the United Nations Security Council. The EU can also impose embargo measures of its own. They are binding for the member states. In Germany itself, the federal government is responsible for issuing them.

In which law are embargoes regulated?
In Germany, they are regulated in the foreign trade regulation. It determines the implementation of the German Foreign Trade Law. The Federal Office of Economics and Export Control is responsible for issuing licences.

What types of embargoes are there?

A distinction is made between the following:

Total embargo

  • Ban on all economic transactions with the country in question
  • Exceptions solely for humanitarian purposes
  • Is rarely imposed

Partial embargo

  • Restrictions and bans for specific economic sectors
  • Types: Country-specific, goods-specific, personal

Arms embargo

  • Restrictions on weapons, munitions and arms material


The embargo has been around since ancient times and has been part of important historical events ever since:

  • A trade embargo against the German Reich led to a famine in World War 1.
  • The OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) supply boycott resulted in a global economic crisis in 1973.
  • Due to the Gulf War, the UN imposed a comprehensive embargo on Iraq in 1991, which lasted for 13 years.
  • In 2014, the annexation of Crimea resulted in far-reaching sanctions for Russia.

Which countries are affected today?

Embargoes are imposed on the following countries (as of 09/2022). Current lists can be found in the Official Journal of the European Union or in the German Bundesanzeiger.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)

Extensive financial sanctions, such as the freezing of funds and economic resources, an arms embargo and trade restrictions are imposed on North Korea. In addition, travel restrictions, bans related to real estate and traffic restrictions have been imposed.


Russia is affected by an arms embargo, extensive financial sanctions and far-reaching trade restrictions such as a ban on the sale, supply, transfer and export of luxury goods. Traffic restrictions are also in place, such as a ban on the landing, take-off and overflight of aircraft belonging to Russian airlines.


Syria is subject to financial sanctions, such as a ban on financial transactions with the Syrian state and Syrian financial institutions, an arms embargo and trade restrictions. These include an export ban on listed equipment that can be used for internal repression or internet or telephone surveillance, or a ban on the import, purchase and transport of crude oil and petroleum products. Travel and traffic restrictions also apply.

Other meanings of the word

  • Librarianship
  • Blocking period for publication of news