Ammunition trade tops $4 billion yet little regulation to control and keep track of who bullets are sold to

Excluding ammunition from new international Arms Trade Treaty would be “totally irrational”

Global sales of ammunition are worth more than $4 billion and are growing at a faster rate than trade in guns, yet there is virtually no regulation in place to control where the bullets end up, according to international agency Oxfam, in a new report today.

The report, 'Stop a Bullet, Stop a War,' has been published ahead of this summer's Arms Trade Treaty negotiations in New York, where diplomats from around the world will gather to try and hammer out a new global agreement to regulate the trade of weapons and ammunition.

Some countries, including the United States, Syria and Egypt, have recently voiced their opposition to including ammunition in the final treaty text. But Oxfam believes it is essential that the sale of ammunition is covered by the new agreement, given the devastating impact that the illicit and irresponsible arms trade has on the lives of some of the poorest people in the world, particularly those living in conflict-hit or fragile states such as Afghanistan and Somalia.

Estimates: 12 billion bullets produced each year

Anna Macdonald, head of arms control campaigning at Oxfam, said: “Guns are useless without bullets; bullets are what turn guns into lethal weapons. It is absolutely essential that the sale of ammunition is included in the treaty and it is far better regulated. It would be totally irrational to leave it out.

“The trade in ammunition is lucrative; but while the monetary cost of production is low, the price paid in human lives for the trade in ammunition is incalculable. An Arms Trade Treaty which doesn’t include the trade in bullets doesn’t make sense.”

Oxfam’s report reveals how poor regulation of the ammunition trade makes it virtually impossible to put an accurate figure on the number of bullets currently being produced and transferred across the world each year, though estimates hover at around the 12 billion mark – enough to kill nearly every man, woman and child on the planet twice.

The trade in ammunition for small arms is worth $4.3 billion per year, while the trade in firearms and light weapons themselves is worth $2.68 billion (Small Arms Survey figures).

Few countries report on ammunitions exports

Oxfam says only a minority of countries report on their ammunition exports and there is hardly any monitoring by intergovernmental agencies covering this trade. To make matters worse, data on ammunition is often not listed separately and is just added to data on general arms exports, making it hard to monitor the bullets’ final destination.

Of the 34 of states that have publicly reported on their arms exports since 2006, 28 (see full lists below) did manage to report on ammunition exports as an explicit category including the UK, the US and France. But due to the magnitude of the trade, regulation through an international treaty is urgently needed to ensure transparent reporting.

Macdonald added: “There are no global controls on ammunition flows and no global reporting system to keep track on where the billions of bullets are ending up. That must change.”

Oxfam researchers found some of the biggest gaps in information related to undocumented ammunition transfers to war-torn countries. The report says many bullets end up diverted into the hands of armed groups, often prolonging conflicts and increasing the chance of human rights abuses.

Read more

Download the report: Stop a Bullet, Stop a War

Take action: Support a bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty

Follow the negotiations: Arms Trade Treaty monitor

Notes to editors

The 34 states are: Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States. Reports are available on the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) National Reports Database.

The 28 states are: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US.

Contact information

Zahra Akkerhuys, +44 (0)1865 472498 or +44 (0) 7525 901932