September 23, 2019
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Tech giants gathered at German fair look to weather trade war uncertainty

By Juan Palop

Berlin, Sep 6 (efe-epa).- The trade war between the United States and China is hovering like a dark cloud over the world's largest technology companies, which are looking to weather the storm by highlighting their commitment to privacy and security.

Uncertainty is a constant theme in debates and informal meetings at Europe's largest technology fair, the IFA Berlin, where leading global brands will showcase their latest consumer technology and home appliance innovations from Sept. 6-11.

The sector's fears are not unjustified. A study by the GfK consulting firm is projecting that global mobile phone sales will fall by 1 percent in 2019, the first decline in a decade.

One company caught in the crossfire of the US-China trade spat is Huawei, the world's second-largest smartphone manufacturer. Washington says Huawei's 5G network equipment could be exploited by the Chinese government for espionage and has greatly restricted that company's ability to trade with US firms.

Huawei therefore has not confirmed whether its new flagship smartphone - the Mate 30 Pro, due to be launched in just two weeks - will follow its predecessors in using Google's Android operating system and featuring the US tech giant's most popular applications, including Gmail, YouTube and Google Maps.

Walter Ji, Huawei's president of consumer business for the Western Europe region, told EFE ambiguously during a meeting with journalists that the Shenzhen, China-based company is committed to the Android ecosystem but also has a "plan B."

That alternate approach would involve the use of Huawei's Harmony OS, a recently unveiled operating system that already is in commercial use.

That system, however, does not yet power Huawei's high-end handsets, an obstacle that could affect the company's sales, particularly outside of China.

Ji acknowledged that Huawei is facing political challenges but provided assurances that its phones have no backdoor that could enable spying by China's secret services and guaranteed the security of its 5G network equipment, which 50 countries already have acquired.

None of Huawei's competitors referred openly to the Chinese multinational, but the question marks surrounding that company were evident at the fair. The chief marketing officer for Samsung Europe, Benjamin Braun, addressed the matter indirectly, saying that "secure infrastructure" is needed if the 5G networks' future potential is to be realized.

He added that Samsung is a "reliable" company that produces a range of range of 5G products, including telecom network equipment, smartphones and mobile chips.

Referring to 5G, LG Iberia's chief marketing officer, Miguel Fernandez, told EFE that that technology marks a qualitative leap in a mature market and will serve to revive mobile phone sales.

Although Huawei is particularly threatened by the US-China trade war, all companies were in agreement that it is not a positive development for anyone because it disrupts supply chains, halts investment and innovation and can lead to a drop in demand.

"No one wants a trade war. We want open and competitive markets that allow the strongest possible trade in goods and materials," Celestino Garcia, corporate vice-president of Samsung Electronics Iberia, told EFE.

Fernandez said for his part that "companies with a vocation for innovation" do not like trade wars. "What we want is to talk about technology and innovation and not these other things, which greatly darken (the horizon)."

He acknowledged, however, that South Korean companies could benefit from the US-China trade spat in that many consumers view them as "neutral" and functioning independently of national interests. EFE-EPA

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