What is the difference between a trade sanction and an embargo?

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Embargoes are the complete ban or prohibition of trade by one country with other. Under embargoes, no goods or services can be imported or exported from or to the embargoed nation. For example, the U.S. currently has a trade embargo with Cuba (except in limited circumstances, such as the export of food and agricultural products to Cuba).


Sanctions are the trade prohibition on certain type of products, services or technology to another country due to various reasons, including nuclear non-proliferation and humanitarian purposes. Sanctions could also be considered as "partial embargoes" as they restrict trade in certain areas. For example, the U.S. has trade sanctions with North Korea that prohibit the export of any material that would help N.Korea in its Nuclear or any other mass destruction or weapons related program.

In practical terms, comprehensive trade sanctions can have practically the same effect as an embargo. Fr example, Cuba is the only country currently subject to a total trade embargo by the U.S. However, the U.S. also maintains comprehensive trade sanctions against N. Korea, Syria, Sudan and Iran that prohibit virtually all types of financial transactions with entities from those countries, thereby having a similar practical effect as the embargo against Cuba. Sanctions also can be more limited and target only certain groups of individuals, such as the sanctions maintained by the U.S. against former members of the Charles Taylor regime in Liberia.
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