US tech groups in the dark about renewal of Huawei sales licence
US technology and telecoms companies still do not know whether they will be able to sell to Huawei after Monday, when a temporary export licence runs out, leaving many in the industry frustrated over the lack of information from the Trump administration.
Companies such as Google, Qualcomm and Broadcom have not been told whether a temporary licence allowing companies to export to the Chinese telecoms equipment maker in certain circumstances will be renewed when it runs out on Monday.
The administration granted the licence as a stopgap earlier this year after its move to ban all US exports to Huawei was met with opposition from some of the biggest US technology companies.
Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary, said earlier this week that he expected to provide an update on the situation on Monday, but industry representatives say the late notice has led to problems with managing supply chains.
The commerce department would not comment further on whether Mr Ross planned to announce an extension, as most in the industry assume, or to change the administration’s policy.
The uncertainty over Huawei licences comes amid a flare-up in trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, with the US planning to slap new tariffs on more than $300bn of Chinese products in the coming months, beginning in September.
This week, Mr Trump offered to delay the levies on $160bn of goods until mid December, but China has still vowed to retaliate against the US.
One industry executive called the delay “baffling”, while a lobbyist for some of the companies called the commerce department’s approach “extraordinarily secretive”.
Huawei sought to reassure customers on Thursday. “As we have been saying for some time now, nothing’s changed,” a spokesperson said in an email, “and the good thing for our consumers is that nothing will change after August 19th.”
“All Huawei smartphones, tablets and PCs which are sold and are selling in the market will continue to receive security patches, Android updates and Microsoft support,” the spokesperson added. “Anyone who has already bought, or is about to buy a Huawei smartphone, can continue to access the world of apps as they have always done.”
The Trump administration surprised many technology companies in May when it announced they would not be able to sell US-made products to Huawei, as part of a package of measures designed to ramp up the pressure on the Chinese company. US officials have warned that Huawei poses a risk to US national security, since its telecoms equipment could be used by Beijing to spy on American citizens.
Washington’s move was met with protests by some in the technology industry, such as Google, which warned it would no longer be able to update its Android software on Huawei smartphones, even in the US.
In response, the commerce department issued a 90-day general licence for supplies which helped maintain existing networks, including software patches, allowing Google and others to continue to sell some of their products. The licence also permits companies to work in international organisations alongside Huawei to draw up standards for 5G superfast broadband.
That licence runs out on Monday, but companies still do not know whether it will be extended.
Some are lobbying for the licence not only to be extended, but also broadened. Telecoms companies, for example, want to be allowed to work in standards bodies beyond the area of 5G. One lobbyist said they had heard “certain pieces” of the temporary licence would be extended, and that there might be additional guidance issued on working with standards bodies.
Industry representatives will meet commerce officials on Tuesday to discuss their requests, but this will be too late to influence whatever decision Mr Ross makes on whether to extend the licence or not.
One industry lobbyist said: “We are working on the assumption that the licence will be extended, and we are asking for changes. But so far we have been told nothing about what the commerce department is planning — it is a bit odd.”