What are Trade Sanctions? Everything You Need to Know

Trade sanctions are a kind of economic sanction that is used to limit commerce with certain foreign entities. They are often imposed as a component of a larger sanctions program meant to accomplish diplomatic or political objectives. Trade sanctions impose restrictions that may be applied narrowly to certain sectors, people, or nations. The restrictions make it illegal for citizens of the issuing nation to do business with those who are subject to them.

Governments throughout the world utilize trade sanctions as a pillar of their foreign policy, either to strengthen national security or to penalize transgressions of international law and human rights crimes. As a result, banks, financial institutions, and other service providers need to closely check their compliance to make sure they do not face severe fines or criminal charges. Regulators enforce trade sanctions aggressively.

Trade Sanctions

Single countries can put trade restrictions in place, or they can target certain types of trade, people, or even groups. There are two main ways in which nations might apply trade penalties: either individually via their own sanctions regimes or collectively through international organizations like the UN.

The different categories of trade sanctions include:

👉 Tariffs: The fees or taxes levied on the import of products and services from a target nation.
👉Quotas: The imposition of restrictions on the movement of products and services to and from a certain nation.
👉Asset freezes: When nations, organizations, or individuals’ assets are placed within their jurisdiction, governments may impose trade restrictions by freezing them.
👉Non-tariff: Non-tariff obstacles include peripheral trade constraints such as packaging standards, humanitarian labor needs, and animal welfare regulations.

KYC Hub transaction monitoring

Trade Sanction Mechanisms

Of all trade restrictions, embargoes and non-tariff barriers (NTBs) are the most prevalent. Non-tariff barriers might take the form of export licensing regimes or complete export and import prohibitions for certain goods and services. Quotas and tariffs are not often used as sanctions, although they may be modified or preserved as part of a sanctions system. Even while they aren’t technically trading sanctions per se, asset freezes and seizures are a powerful instrument in the economic sanctions armory that may impede commerce.

1: Embargoes

There are several key distinctions between embargoes and trade sanctions, even though both tools fall under the umbrella of economic limitations imposed on a third nation. Embargoes are far broader than sanctions, which might target certain economic activities or persons. They can completely ban commerce with a target nation or even all imports and exports from that country. Some commodities, such as military end-use equipment, maybe the sole ones whose import and export are restricted by an embargo.

Examples of Trade Sanctions and Embargos

Trade sanctions are routinely used to force or reward target nations to follow international law. Examples include:

  • The United States established an embargo on Cuba in 1963, restricting all imports and exports between the two countries. In 2000, the ban was relaxed to enable the shipment of medicinal and agricultural commodities.
  • OPEC placed an oil embargo on the United States between 1973 and 1974 in retaliation to the country’s backing for Israel during the Arab-Israeli War.
  • Multiple nations imposed embargoes against Apartheid South Africa, which lasted until the end of apartheid in 1994.
  • The United States has imposed commercial restrictions on North Korea, prohibiting the shipment of products and any investment in the country.
  • The EU imposed penalties on Turkish people in reaction to Turkey’s oil drilling activity off the coast of Cyprus.

Several events have transpired since 2014, including the seizure of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, and sanctions imposed by the US, UK, and EU on Russia.

2: Trade sanctions enforcement

To oversee the execution of trade sanctions, most nations have set up enforcement agencies. U.S. sanctions enforcement is overseen by OFAC, which also keeps track of the Blocked Persons List and the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN). The SDN list details the entities and persons who are now the focus of trade restrictions imposed by the US.

What is Money Laundering?

How to comply with trade sanctions?

  • Trade sanctions showcase unique challenges in compliance. Businesses must ensure that their screening checks reflect the sanctions-level risks that they face.
  • There are distinct difficulties in complying with trade restrictions. To avoid severely impacting client experiences or creating an insurmountable administrative load for compliance workers, firms should make sure that their screening solution accurately represents the degree of penalty risk they face.
  • That being said, businesses should make it a point to analyze their customers’ risk levels both during onboarding and as the relationship progresses. Then, they can use that information to guide their compliance response, making sure that customers with a higher risk level are subject to stricter restrictions.
  • Additionally, trade sanctions screening methods should take into account how hard it is to check out foreign customers or deals involving foreign parties. Practically, this involves updating the screening system with the most recent sanctions data to guarantee that checks are reliable and accurate.

It’s also important that sanctions take into account the use of titles and nicknames, as well as the way people name things in some countries. Some names, like those in Arabic and Chinese, utilize letters from alphabets other than the Western ones, and the order of the name and surname is typically reversed.

Trade sanctions AML

In addition to implementing a reliable sanctions screening system, businesses must also check that their AML/CFT program includes the following controls and procedures to guarantee compliance with trade sanctions regulations:

  • Customer due diligence: Businesses must set up and verify the identities of their customers to accurately check their names against sanctions screening lists.
  • Transaction monitoring: Businesses need to monitor customer transactions carefully to ensure they are not facilitating entities with trade sanctions targets.
  • Politically exposed persons: Government officials and elected politicians may represent a higher risk of penalty compliance. As a result, firms should always verify the PEP status of their customers, as well as their friends and family members, while doing business.
  • Adverse media monitoring: If new trade restrictions have been implemented or if a client has been singled out for trade penalties, news articles about it are excellent signs. To stay updated about any changes to their risk profiles, firms should watch for negative media reports involving their consumers.

What is Transaction Screening?

What is Trade-based money laundering (TBML)?

Trade-based money laundering (TBML) is a complex and sophisticated method used by criminals to launder illicit proceeds through international trade. It accounts for a significant portion of illicit financial flows worldwide, making it a critical concern for governments, financial institutions, and businesses. To combat TBML effectively, a coordinated effort involving regulatory authorities, financial institutions, and law enforcement agencies is necessary.

Key measures to combat TBML include:

💡Trade Documentation: Keeping accurate and complete trade documentation is crucial. Invoices, bills of lading, shipping manifests, and customs declarations provide insights into the nature and value of traded goods, the parties involved, and the origin and destination of the goods.

💡Transaction Monitoring: Automated systems for monitoring transactions can detect suspicious patterns or behaviors, enabling quick identification of anomalies and alerting compliance teams.

💡Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs): Establishing mechanisms to report suspicious activity to relevant authorities is essential. SARs provide valuable information to law enforcement and aid in combating money laundering.

💡Training and Awareness: Training employees on the risks associated with TBML and AML/CFT measures is vital. Staff should be familiar with company policies and be able to identify and report any suspicious activity.

💡Collaboration and Information Sharing: Sharing information and intelligence among businesses, financial institutions, and authorities is crucial for identifying and tracking illicit activity and gaining insight into TBML trends and techniques.


Money laundering poses a significant threat to global economies, and understanding the relevant statistics is key to tackling this issue. However, statistics alone are not enough. Financial institutions and businesses worldwide must leverage advanced AML solutions like those provided by KYC Hub, to effectively combat money laundering and ensure compliance with evolving regulations.

In the face of growing money laundering threats, KYC Hub stands as a reliable partner providing innovative, helpful, and authoritative solutions in risk and compliance. With its advanced AML solutions, KYC Hub simplifies complex procedures and makes compliance hassle-free for its clients.

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