Until recently few people outside the business of building and operating telecommunications networks had heard of Huawei. That changed when we launched a line of smart phones and then tablets and consumer devices that have taken us to the very top of the consumer electronics industry. But before we became a consumer brand we had long established a relationship as one of the most reliable, trusted, innovative and competitive go-to partners for operators, who for many years had been battered by crushing price competition and growing capex outlays.
By 2015 we had become the world’s Number One equipment vendor for mobile telecommunications networks, an achievement that stemmed in no small measure from the open markets and level playing field in the increasing number of countries where we did business. Operators had long been waiting for the entry to market of a new, more innovative and cost-competitive player to provide an alternative to the legacy vendors who then dominated equipment markets. And because this was the new world of market deregulation, trade liberalisation and economic integration in the immediate aftermath of the establishment of the World Trade Organisation in 1995, markets were for the most part open and trade barriers were minimal.
Today, the market openness and level playing field that so benefited Huawei and the thousands of other young companies that make up the global technology sector and the modern digital economy is under attack. With the world’s economic trajectory uncertain, this is no time to abandon principles that have served the global economy so well for the last 60 years. As we stand on the cusp of a new digital age, with new technologies like 5G ready to bring productivity gains, benefits, new business models, and new jobs that we cannot even imagine today, we must not abandon the underlying fundamentals that have brought us this far, including in particular a commitment to open markets and a level playing field. Markets must remain open to all businesses regardless of their country of origin and all businesses must be treated equally in every area of the law and regulation. Only in this way will we all be able to benefit from a competitive environment that rewards the most efficient, the most innovative and the most customer-centric.
These are worrying times for many, with issues like cybersecurity, network integrity, product safety and personal data privacy being of paramount concern to governments, operators and consumers around the world. But these concerns cannot be used as a front by governments to justify measures that are in reality nothing more than protectionism and economic nationalism. We must stick to the fundamental principles of open markets and a level playing field out of basic fairness to businesses and consumers in all countries. If we do not, we risk facing the economic opportunities and challenges the future brings with one arm tied behind our backs as well as shutting the door on another thirty years of breakthrough innovations and the many benefits these promise for our daily lives.
Simon Lacey is Vice President for Market Access and Trade Facilitation at Huawei Technologies’ Global Government Affairs Department in Shenzhen