Inside a FedEx ground distribution centre in Jersey City, New Jersey, the US. Picture: BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES/MARC McANDREWS
Inside a FedEx ground distribution centre in Jersey City, New Jersey, the US. Picture: BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGES/MARC McANDREWS

Beijing — FedEx apologised on Tuesday for misrouting some Huawei parcels after the Chinese telecoms giant said it was reviewing its ties with the US package delivery service over the incident.

The mix-up came as Huawei faces US moves to blacklist the company, cutting it off from American-made components it needs for its products, though a 90-day reprieve has been issued.

“We apologise for a small number of Huawei packages being misrouted,” FedEx said on its official account in China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform. “We confirm that no external parties requested that FedEx transfer these packages. Relevant packages are on the way to being returned to the sender.”

Earlier, a Huawei spokesperson said the company was “reviewing” its relationship with FedEx. “We do not know why FedEx did what it did by diverting the parcels. You will need to ask FedEx why it took these actions. Huawei cannot speculate,” the spokesperson said, adding that the company had never had such issues in the past.

Huawei did not immediately respond to a request for comment on FedEx’s apology.

Huawei told Reuters on Friday that FedEx diverted two packages sent from Japan and addressed to Huawei in China to the US and attempted to divert two more packages sent from Vietnam to Huawei offices elsewhere in Asia, all without authorisation, providing images of FedEx tracking records.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the records. Shown the images of the tracking records, FedEx declined to make any comment, saying company policy prevented it from disclosing customer information.

Taking ‘exception’

Huawei said the four packages contained only  documents and “no technology”, which Reuters was unable to independently confirm. Huawei declined to elaborate on why it thought the packages were diverted.

The two packages sent on May 19 and May 20 from Tokyo, intended for Huawei in China, ended up in Memphis, Tennessee, the headquarters of the US company, by May 23, according to images of FedEx tracking records shown to Reuters by Huawei.

The two packages originating from Hanoi on May 17, destined for Huawei’s Hong Kong and Singapore offices, were held up after arriving in local FedEx stations in Hong Kong and Singapore on May 21 for “delivery exception”, according to other images Huawei showed Reuters.

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According to FedEx’s website, the status “exception” means an unexpected event is preventing delivery of a package, for example a customs delay, a holiday, or no one being available to accept delivery. FedEx declined to give details on what the exception was in this case.

According to Huawei, a FedEx customer service representative in Vietnam replied to their inquiry on May 22 when two expected packages did not arrive on time, saying: “Please be informed that FDX SG received notification from FDX US to hold and return the package to US. Hence, the shipment is not deliver to consignee and now being hold at FDX station and under process to RTS (return to sender) it,” the representative wrote in broken English, according to an e-mail Huawei showed to Reuters.

Huawei told Reuters that both Vietnam packages were sent by its shipping agent, a contractor to Huawei which it did not identify, and contained urgent documents. It said the shipping agent refused permission for FedEx to send the packages to the US and instructed they be returned, Huawei said, which Reuters could not confirm .

Huawei said it only learned that the Japan-originated packages, which were sent by suppliers that it did not identify, had been diverted to the US after checking FedEx’s tracking record.

‘Misrouted in error’

“The recent experiences where important commercial documents sent via FedEx were not delivered to their destination, and instead were either diverted to, or were requested to be diverted to, FedEx in the US, undermines our confidence,” Joe Kelly, a spokesperson for Huawei, said.

“We will now have to review our logistics and document delivery support requirements as a direct result of these incidents.” 

FedEx spokesperson Maury Donahue said the packages were “misrouted in error”. She acknowledged in an earlier statement that the US department of commerce had recently added Chinese companies and affiliates to its “entity list”, but did not elaborate.

“This is an isolated issue limited to a very small number of packages,” said FedEx. “We are aware of all shipments at issue and are working directly with our customers to return the packages to their possession.”

The US believes Huawei, the world’s largest telecoms network gear maker and which is leading the way in creating the next generation of 5G wireless networks, is a potential espionage threat because of its close ties with the Chinese government.

Huawei has repeatedly denied it is controlled by the Chinese government, military or intelligence services.

The issue has become a flashpoint in an escalating trade battle between the world’s two biggest economies.

The company said it has lodged a formal complaint with China’s postal regulator, which it said is investigating the incident. China’s State Postal Bureau did not return a request for comment.