France to encourage telecom groups to avoid Huawei products, but not ban company: report

France to encourage telecom groups to avoid Huawei products, but not ban company: report
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The French government will encourage telecommunications companies to avoid using equipment from Chinese telecom group Huawei, but will not ban the use of the equipment altogether, French newspaper Les Echos reported this week.

Guillaume Poupard, the head of French cybersecurity agency ANSSI, told the newspaper that the government planned to advise French companies to avoid using Huawei equipment in the rollout of 5G networks, but would not place a complete ban on Huawei. 

“What I can say is that there won’t be a total ban,” Guillaume Poupard told Les Echos, according to a Reuters report. “For operators that are not currently using Huawei, we are inciting them not to go for it.”

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Poupard noted that for French companies already using Huawei products, the government would issue authorizations to allow these companies to use Huawei products for a further three to eight years. 

The reported upcoming French decision comes on the heels of the United Kingdom reportedly backtracking on its policies towards the company and considering speeding up the process of removing all Huawei equipment from its networks after recent moves by the Trump administration limited the company’s ability to do business. 

The Telegraph cited a leaked report from the U.K. intelligence agency GCHQ in reporting Sunday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being pressured by officials to phase out all Huawei equipment from British networks by 2029. According to The Telegraph, members of Johnson’s party plan to urge him to move that deadline up to 2024, the end of the current Parliament. 

The British concerns mostly cite recent moves by the Commerce Department to limit Huawei’s ability to do business in the U.S. and with U.S. allies, with British officials noting that these limits could force Huawei to use vulnerable equipment in British 5G networks. 

Concerns around Huawei largely stem from a 2017 Chinese intelligence law that requires Chinese companies and citizens to disclose sensitive information to the government if requested. U.S. prosecutors have also brought charges against the company for intellectual property theft, wire fraud, and obstruction of justice, among others.

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The Trump administration has strongly pressured allies to block Huawei from their 5G networks, pointing to these security concerns. The British National Security Council voted in January to allow Huawei equipment to be used in “periphery” networks, but not more secure networks, a move that prompted strong concerns on Capitol Hill that the decision could endanger intelligence sharing.

A spokesperson for Huawei declined to comment on the reported decision by the French government. 

The spokesperson addressed the potential British ban on Huawei 5G products, noting that the company is “working closely with our customers to find ways of managing the proposed US restrictions so the UK can maintain its current lead in 5G.”

“We believe it is too early to determine the impact of the proposed restrictions, which are not about security, but about market position,” the spokesperson said. “All our world-leading products and solutions use technology and components over which the UK government has strict oversight. Our technology is already extensively used in 5G networks across the country and has helped connect people throughout lockdown.”

The Trump administration has stepped up efforts over the past year to block Huawei from doing business with U.S. companies. 

The Commerce Department added the company to its “entity list,” effectively blacklisting Huawei, last year, while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) formally designated Huawei as a national security threat last week and blocked U.S. telecom groups from using FCC funds to purchase Huawei equipment.