Recent Trade & Tariff Perspectives

December 15, 2022  |  Jeff Simpson  Director of Compliance

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Export Record Retention

Most companies know the importance of keeping import records, but too few realize how important it is to maintain export records for regulatory compliance.

When they learn they need export documentation, such as for a federal agency inspection, exporters often ask us for past shipment documents or to pull export filing data from the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) for them. Unfortunately, as much as we would like to help, freight forwarders keep records of the exports we facilitate for our own record retention requirements, and, as a matter of practice, are not privy to many of the documents that exporters are required to retain.

Where can you find the record retention requirements?

Unlike imports for which U.S. Customs is the primary federal agency, exports are overseen by multiple federal agencies, with jurisdiction predicated on the commodity type, end user location, end use, and the export filing itself. For reference, the many agencies that do or could have jurisdiction over an export include the:

  • Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), which oversees the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) 15 C.F.R. § 730- 74;
  • Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) which oversees the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) 22 C.F.R. § 120-130;
  • Office of Foreign Assets Controls (OFAC) which oversees the Foreign Assets Controls Regulations 31 C.F.R. § 500-590; and
  • U.S. Census Foreign Trade Division which oversees the Foreign Trade Regulations (FTR) 15 C.F.R. § 30.

Because each agency and correlating regulation(s) have specific record retention requirements, it is crucial for exporters to understand and abide by each.

What are the requirements?

As a general guideline, each export transaction should “tell its own story”—meaning, all associated documentation from purchase order to proof of payment should be retained going back five years. From there, additional details need to be addressed based on specific agency and regulation requirements, which can vary significantly.

For example, with regard to the U.S. Principal Party in Interest (USPPI) and Foreign Principal Party in Interest (FPPI), the Foreign Trade Regulations (FTR) in 15 C.F.R. §30.10 (Retention of export information and the authority to require production of documents) states:

“(a) Retention of export information. All parties to the export transaction (owners and operators of export carriers, USPPIs, FPPIs and/or authorized agents) shall retain documents pertaining to the export shipment for five years from the date of export. If the Department of State or other regulatory agency has recordkeeping requirements for exports that exceed the retention period specified in this part, then those requirements prevail. The USPPI or the authorized agent of the USPPI or FPPI may request a copy of the electronic record or submission from the Census Bureau as provided for in Subpart G of this part. The Census Bureau’s retention and maintenance of AES records does not relieve filers from requirements in §30.10.

(b) Authority to require production of documents. For purposes of verifying the completeness and accuracy of information reported as required under §30.6, and for other purposes under the regulations in this part, all parties to the export transaction (owners and operators of the exporting carriers, USPPIs, FPPIs, and/or authorized agents) shall provide upon request to the Census Bureau, CBP, ICE, BIS and other participating agencies EEI, shipping documents, invoices, orders, packing lists, and correspondence as well as any other relevant information bearing upon a specific export transaction at anytime within the five year time period.”

The Export Administration Regulations (EAR) imposes markedly different recordkeeping requirements. For example, 15 C.F.R. § 762.2(a) (records to be retained) lays out a lengthy list of documents that must be kept, including memoranda, notes, correspondence, contracts, invitations to bid, books of account, etc. The EAR goes on to explain and define the record retention period in 15 C.F.R. § 762.6(a):

“Five year retention period

All records required to be kept by the EAR must be retained for five years from the latest of the following times:

(1) The export from the United States of the item involved in the transaction to which the records pertain or the provision of financing, transporting or other service for or on behalf of end-users of proliferation concern as described in §§736.2(b)(7) and 744.6 of the EAR;

(2) Any known reexport, transfer (in-country), transshipment, or diversion of such item;

(3) Any other termination of the transaction, whether formally in writing or by any other means; or

(4) In the case of records of pertaining to transactions involving restrictive trade practices or boycotts described in part 760 of the EAR, the date the regulated person receives the boycott related request or requirement.”

Being prepared as a best practice

As a best practice, be sure to put a robust export record retention policy in place as part of your overall export compliance program. It is in your best interest to make sure you are keeping your export records and are able to produce all required documents upon request.

Have additional questions, or require further assistance with this or any other customs and trade matters? Connect with one of our trade policy experts to learn more.


Our information is compiled from a number of sources that to the best of our knowledge are accurate and correct. It is always the intent of our company to present accurate information. C.H. Robinson accepts no liability or responsibility for the information published herein.

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