American companies who count Huawei as a customer may soon get a more permanent reprieve from US restrictions on selling to the Chinese tech giant.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Bloomberg on Sunday that licenses allowing US companies to sell to Huawei “will be forthcoming very shortly.” He said his office has received 260 requests for licenses.
Huawei has become a pawn in the larger US-China trade war. Ross said on Monday that the United States is engaged in a “long overdue” overhaul of its trade relationship with China. Speaking at an economic summit in Bangkok, Thailand, he said that the two sides “are very far along with phase one,” referring to a preliminary trade agreement.
Huawei is the world’s largest telecommunications company, second largest smartphone maker and a key customer for many US companies. The company says it purchased $11 billion in American products last year.
The US Commerce Department in May added Huawei to its Entity List, citing national security concerns. The action barred American companies from selling to Huawei without a license, though some have found limited ways around the restriction. The Commerce Department in August extended the “temporary general license” that has allowed American companies to continue some sales to Huawei, but it is set to expire in mid-November.
The Entity List action has hurt sales at a number of Huawei’s US suppliers, including chip manufacturers such as Micron and Intel, and software makers like Google. Many of those American sellers to Huawei have spoken out against the policy, saying it could lead to the development of similar products from Chinese companies and threaten American technological dominance.
Microsoft President Brad Smith told CNN’s Poppy Harlow last month that while he understands the desire to keep Huawei equipment out of the US wireless networks, he disagrees with the decision to restrict sales of US products to the Chinese company.
“If somebody from the government believes that Windows on a laptop sold by Huawei would create a national security risk to the United States, then of course that’s something that we want to talk about and think hard about. But we don’t think that is the case,” Smith said, adding that Microsoft had applied for a license.
“Right now, there is not a Chinese competitor in the PC operating system space. Is it really in the United States’ economic interest to create not only an incentive, but the necessity to go create a Chinese operating system? Because once it’s created, it will compete with us around the world,” Smith said.
US officials have long accused Huawei of working to undermine US national security and foreign policy interests. Ross has previously said that licenses will only be granted for sales of products that do not pose a national security risk.
Huawei fiercely denies that is poses any threat to the United States or that it has any connection to the Chinese government. The company has also held that it does not want to be part of a larger US-China trade deal and would prefer to work out a resolution with US officials directly.
Huawei and the Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.