US gives companies six-week extension on trading with Huawei

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The US government has given a six-week extension to the licence that allows companies to trade with Huawei.

The so-called Temporary General License (TGL), first imposed in May 2019, was due to expire on 1 April – after three previous extensions – but the Department of Commerce (DoC) announced last night a fourth extension, to 15 May.

The main purpose, said the DoC, is to seek public comments on “the continuing need for, and scope of, possible future extensions” of the TGL.

The DoC said last night that the extensions “were intended to allow time for companies and persons to shift to alternative sources of equipment, software, and technology”, pointing at small rural telecoms companies in the US that would have to find new suppliers if Huawei were banned for ever.

But the terms of the TGL appear also to cover US companies supplying hardware and software to Huawei, which was also banned when the DoC added the Chinese company to the so-called entity list last year. Capacity has asked Huawei to clarify this. Huawei said it would not comment on the DoC’s move.

The ban has already prevented Google from supplying its Google Play app store and other services such as Gmail and maps to the latest Huawei phones.

The DoC’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) has started its consultation on the terms of the TGL and has asked for responses by 25 March.

BIS said it “has requested comments to evaluate the need to extend the TGL, whether any other changes may be warranted to the TGL and to identify any alternative authorization or other regulatory provisions that may more effectively address what is being authorized under the TGL”.

It said it wants to allow existing US telcos that use Huawei kit “the ability to continue to temporarily and securely operate existing networks while they identify alternatives to Huawei for future operation”. 

Meanwhile Victor Zhang, VP of Huawei in the UK, responded to yesterday’s debate in the UK parliament on telecoms infrastructure, in which a move to ban Huawei from UK telecoms infrastructure was defeated by 24 votes – well short of the governing party’s 87 majority.

However rebel politicians for the ruling Conservative Party, as well as most opposition parties, also opposed Huawei. The members of parliament called for all Huawei kit to be removed from 5G networks by 2023.

The issue will probably return during later debates on telecoms infrastructure and security.

Zhang said: “We were reassured by the UK government’s decision in January that we could continue working with our customers to keep the 5G roll-out on track. It was an evidence-based decision that will result in a more advanced, more secure and more cost-effective telecoms infrastructure.”

He said: “The government has examined the evidence and concluded that Huawei should not be banned on cyber security grounds and two parliamentary committees have done the same and agreed. An evidence-based approach is needed, so we were disappointed to hear some groundless accusations asserted.”

Huawei advisor Mike Rake, who stepped down as BT chairman in 2017, also waded into the dispute in an open letter.  

“The government rightly put pressure on BT during the time that I was chairman, and since, to rapidly expand full fibre availability and to be one of the first countries to invest in and launch 5G,” wrote Rake.

“Much progress has been made with much still to do. The industry is only able to do this by buying the best equipment at the best price, while ensuring security and diversity of supply. In relation to 5G considerable progress has been made. This could not have been achieved without using Huawei.”