Foreign Language Translation and Export Control

June 27, 2013

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The US Code is very clear on the requirements for foreign language translations within the realm of export control documentation. Accordingly, 'documents in a foreign language shall be accompanied by an accurate English translation'. It further states that although the English translation need not be made by an official US-based translation service, if it is not, then it 'shall be certified by the applicant to be a correct translation'. The Code also allows US exporters to provide their foreign-based customers with the required documents (ie, FC-842 and FC-843) translated into the customer's native language, although copies of these forms in the foreign language are not provided by the Office of Export Control.

The Code's requirements pertaining to foreign language translations extend beyond the actual body text of the export control documents and also effect 'explanations of a consignee/purchaser statement' and all other supplemental documentation. Specifically, the Code requires that the foreign language translations reflect the language of the particular trade involved, stating: 'All abbreviations, code terms or other expressions having special significance in the trade or to the parties to the transaction shall be explained' and when done so in a foreign language, 'shall be accompanied by an accurate English translation'.

It should be noted here, however, that although the foreign language translation requirements of all export control documentation into the native language of host country, as shown in the US Code, is nearly universal, the particular requirements as to the type of translations accepted is not. In fact, unlike the US Code, many jurisdictions require the translation to not only be certified, but translated by a certified, resident-domiciled translation service. Take Bulgaria, for example - a popular port of entry into Eastern Europe and Russia and the CIS countries. According to Article 49 of its export control laws, 'all required documents in a foreign language shall be submitted to the competent authorities by a certified Bulgarian translation'. In other words, the documents must be translated by a translation service located in and certified by Bulgaria.

Don't Overlook the Packaging When Delivering Foreign Language Translated Documents

One issue often overlooked is product labeling and packaging as it applies to export control law. Most countries have very particular regulations pertaining to product labeling and packaging - including the specifications of directions and user manuals. Although a product itself may satisfy all export control requirements, if its packaging or labeling does not comply with all relevant regulations, then the product will be denied by the export control authorities.

Thus, when preparing a product for export, one must always consider its 'supplementary features' (i.e., packaging, warranties, service agreements, claims, instruction and user manuals, etc.). Specific questions to ask include:

  • Are international brand names important to promote and distinguish a product? Conversely, should local brands or private labels be employed to heighten local interest?
  • Are the colors used on labels and packages offensive or attractive to the foreign buyer? For example, in some countries certain colors are associated with death.
  • Can labels be produced in official or customary languages if required by law or practice?
  • Does information on product content and country of origin have to be provided?
  • Are weights and measures stated in the local unit?
  • Must each item be labeled individually?

More often than not, the export control regulation's foreign language translation requirements will apply equally to the product's supplementary features - or even be in addition to the specific foreign language translation requirements found in individual product labeling and packaging statutes. Thus, it is best practice to assume that, if the export control regulation requires all export documents to be translated into a foreign language by a local, certified translation service (the Bulgaria requirement), then this requirement will also extend to the product's supplementary features.

A US company is well advised to seek the advice of local counsel who is familiar with many of the 'localized' rules and regulations, both as to export control and to foreign language translation requirements.