Obviously you’d expect that military equipment to be export restricted.
The same thing goes for aerospace and defense items in general – it makes sense that the government would want to prevent hostile entities from obtaining guns, engines, and so on. But there are also a host of restricted items that you’d probably never imagine would be export restricted. Here’s a quick run-down of a few of the most surprising.
1. Sony PlayStation
As good as they are for your hand-eye coordination, video games have long been an export control issue. In 1999, the U.S. Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) ruled that it was illegal to ship the PlayStation 2 console to China without an export license. Though assembled in Japan, the PS2’s powerful processor chip was manufactured in the United States, making it controlled technology prohibited from ending up in the hands of nationals from export-restricted countries like China. In 2010, freight forwarders in Miami were arrested and criminally charged with violating export laws for shipping products, including several PlayStation 3 consoles, to a company in Paraguay appearing on a Restricted Parties List provided by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). The documentation for some PlayStation software even requires users to agree not to export or re-export it to any embargoed persons or places. Make sure you play safe!
2. Life Jackets
They’re meant to save lives, but according to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), life jackets are potentially dangerous objects that can’t be taken outside the United States without an export license. Since life jackets have military applications as well as civilian ones, they qualify as “dual use goods,” and it’s illegal to let them be transferred to any restricted parties. As strange as it may sound, there’s enough of a risk that life jackets can be used to harm the foreign policy interests of the U.S. that they need to be meticulously controlled.
3. Western Red Cedar
Because of its light weight and its straight grain, timber from the western red cedar tree is highly sought after; it’s used for outdoor construction, sailboats and kayaks, and guitar soundboards, among many others. Nevertheless, under United States export law it’s illegal to ship western red cedar wood across the border that were harvested from any federal or state lands. There are certain exceptions – for instance, wood from Alaska or from lands held in trust for recognized Indian tribes – but in general, Uncle Sam is really serious about making sure the western red cedar stays inside of America.
4. Paraffin Wax
It’s used in everything from candles to crayons to chewing gum – but it’s also a petroleum product (export restricted), not to mention an essential ingredient in the formulation of certain types of rocket fuel (very export restricted) and even weaponry and explosives like dynamite and antipersonnel mines (very very export restricted). As a “phlegmatizing agent” (which sounds gross, but really just means that it dilutes a substance to make it less dangerous to handle), paraffin wax has to be kept away from restricted parties and sanctioned countries.
5. A Horse
It’s illegal to transport a horse from the United States to any destination (including Canada, the Code of Federal Regulations is careful to point out) without an export license. More (and strangely) specifically, a license is required for the export of horses by sea. According to regulations, license applications will be approved if the BIS and Department of Agriculture determine that the horses are not intended for slaughter; evidently, exporting a horse by plane, train, or automobile does not hold the same risk of slaughter as sea travel. The regulations do not elaborate on why this might be. Maybe pirates? Or a bizarre typo – perhaps the regulation was meant to restrict the export of seahorses? In any case, before you put your horse on a boat, make sure you get a license.
And those are only five of the thousands of items on the U.S. government’s Commerce Control List. How sure are you that your seemingly innocuous products don’t need an export license?