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US extends temporary stay on Huawei ban

American network operators given extra wiggle room to wean themselves off Huawei’s hardware

The US government has confirmed it is extending, for a further 90 days, a previously announced temporary general licence to allow some US companies to continue doing business with Huawei while they make alternative arrangements in the face of a total ban on the firm’s activities in the US.

US secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross confirmed the extension in an interview on the Fox Business news channel on 19 August.

“There is another 90 days for the US telecom companies,” he said. “Some of the rural companies are dependent on Huawei, so we’re giving them a little more time to wean themselves off.”

Asked whether US companies have a plan as to what is likely to happen after the new 90-day grace period expires, which will be on Sunday 17 November 2019, Ross said: “Everybody has had plenty of notice of it, there have been plenty of discussions with the president, and the president has made clear in his announcements yesterday that he is very concerned about more dealings with Huawei.”

Ross was referring to remarks to reporters made yesterday by president Donald Trump – which the new extension now appears to completely reverse. Trump said: “At this moment, it looks much more like we’re not going to do business.

“I don’t want to do business at all because it is a national security threat and I really believe that the media has covered it a little bit differently than that.”

At the same time, Ross confirmed that the US government has added 46 more Huawei subsidiaries to the Entity List, a move he characterised as an attempt to close off any loopholes on the original list. “Adding more entities makes it more difficult for Huawei to get around the sanctions,” he said.

Huawei’s latest reprieve is likely to mean that the supplier’s new smartphones will be able to carry Google’s Android operating system – although Huawei’s own HarmonyOS variant is waiting in the wings – but fails to address any questions over whether or not the supplier presents a national security threat to the US or, for that matter, the UK.

In July 2019, Westminster’s Telecoms Supply Chain Review failed to draw any definitive conclusion as to whether or not Huawei’s products should be permitted to form any part of the UK’s national mobile networks – whether 4G or 5G.

This means that, for the time being, both EE and Vodafone will be allowed to continue to use Huawei’s equipment in their 5G networks. Both operators had argued at length that stopping them from doing so would put the national 5G roll-out back by up to two years, and could cost the country up to £6.8bn.

In not coming to a final decision on Huawei, the then culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, said the US ban could impact the availability and reliability of Huawei equipment and therefore was a relevant consideration in determining Huawei’s involvement in the UK’s 5G networks. And because the US position was not clear, the UK government had had to conclude that it would be wrong to make a specific decision in relation to Huawei, he said.

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