Huawei’s export ban is wider in scope than most people imagine

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Giant Huawei logo onstage.

Enlarge (credit: Huawei)

The tech industry is still trying to wrap its collective head around the Trump administration’s export ban on Huawei. We’ve seen Huawei be de-listed and then re-listed from industry groups like the Wi-Fi Alliance, Bluetooth SIG, and the SD Association. Companies like Panasonic provided a statement to the BBC saying it would suspend transactions with Huawei, then later said it believed its transactions with Huawei were not in breach of US regulations. We’ve even seen non-US companies like ARM cut off contact with Huawei due to the US export ban. If you’re not familiar with how export law works, it can be tough to understand exactly what’s going on.

For the ins and outs of export law, there’s probably no better person to turn to than international trade lawyer Kevin Wolf, who recently wrote a bulletin detailing some of the finer points of how export law applies to Huawei. Wolf is the former assistant secretary of commerce for export administration during the Obama administration—from 2010 to 2017, Wolf’s job was to enforce export regulations like this. In the article, Wolf says a lot of the media coverage around Huawei’s export ban hasn’t been thorough enough, as it hasn’t taken into account the full scope of US export law.

As Wolf explains, export law applies not just to the country of origin for end products like a smartphone processor or chip, but it also covers commodities—the base components—as well as software and technology used in its construction. Export law has this sort of viral property to it, in that anything that contains more than a trivial amount (the legal term is “de minimis“) of US-origin items also becomes a US-origin item. The objects then become subject to US export law.

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