1. Positive:

– Eligible Sectors (Art. 5): business sectors, which are qualified for investment in PPP form, have been selectively considered and proposed, not as broad as the those under Decree 63/2018/ND-CP (“Decree 63”). This would help to concentrate the valuable resources and finance on efficient and necessary sectors. However, please refer to our notes on incompletion of this clause in the Negative Section as below.

– Language (Art. 34): language for selection of international investor may be in both Vietnamese and English.

– Step-in rights of lenders (Art. 55): Lenders have rights to take over the project and propose another investor to continue the project. This provision has addressed the constraints that inhibit cross-border financing will be essential for diversifying sources of funding for energy-sector investments. International financing can provide for both the electricity and midstream gas sectors in terms of longer tenors and fixed-interest rates, which domestic capital market cannot satisfy.

– Guarantee on Foreign Currency Conversion (Art. 82): it is positive that the PPP Draft still remains this guarantee regime, as the one under Decree 63. However, the scope and conditions to enjoy this are very limited and do not meet the expectation from the investors as discussed in the Negative Section as below.

– Revenue risk sharing (Art. 83): it is indeed a very bold proposal in the PPP Draft that enabling the State to share the revenue loss of investors, subject to certain conditions and qualifications. Though we have few comments on the scope of this mechanism as below. We highly appreciate that the drafter has tried to address one of current issues of PPP form, i.e., non bankability and high risk.

– Dispute Resolution (Art. 104): the relevant provision on dispute resolutions have been improved in comparison with those of Decree 63. In brief, it is crystal clear now disputes between investors involving at least a foreign investor and / or disputes between investors / PPP project company with foreign parties could be resolved by either local courts / arbitration and / or foreign or international arbitration. In terms of disputes between the state and investors / project company, the PPP Draft has in-principle required local courts / arbitration but enabled other agreement between the parties in the project contracts and / or otherwise provided by international treaties of Vietnam. This is a significant improvement as Vietnam has signed several major international treaties such as CPTPP and EVFTA. We give to your attention the advantage of some international treaties as below:

“The CPTPP and the EVFTA make it possible that foreign investors could sue Vietnam Government for its decisions according to the dispute settlement by arbitration rules. The violating party must take all necessary measures to promptly comply with the arbitral decision. In case of non-compliance, as in the WTO, the CPTPP and the EVFTA allow temporary remedies (compensation) at the request of the complaining party. The final arbitral award is binding and enforceable without any question from the local courts regarding its validity. This is an advantage for investors considering the fact that the percentage of annulled foreign arbitral awards in Vietnam remains relatively high for different reasons. It is crucial that foreign investors now could take advantage of the requirements under the CPTPP and the EVFTA (as also recognized by the PPP Draft) to enhance functionality of their PPP projects in Vietnam. In case these entities make wrongful decisions, foreign investors could take recourse to arbitration proceedings and have the arbitral awards fully enforced in Vietnam.”

2. Negative:

1. Art. 5 The scope of sectors eligible for PPP investment form is not crystal clear and need further guidance from the Government and Ministries. For example, in terms of power projects, in practice some major profile thermal power projects have been implemented in cooperation with the Government under the Build – Operate – Transfer (BOT) umbrella (a form of public private partnership (PPP), it appears that the Government would not offer this kind of treatment for renewable energy projects at large (except, perhaps in theory, for very large and prominent ones).

Foreign investors (most of them engaging small scale projects) do not prefer PPP structure for their power plant projects, due to complexity of this structure and the lack of clear guidance, especially feed-in-tariff and consequently bankability. However, on the contrary, BOT seems to be suitable for larger scale projects and often give investors a better position to negotiate with the Government on key project indicators at the outset, which may not be available in other investment platforms.

Recommendation: Consider clarification on the scope and scale of power projects eligible for PPP form. In addition, for large scale power projects, it is crucial to enable all sub-projects of a mega power project could be together invested in the PPP form. For example, a LNG-to-power project could only be efficiently invested with other sub-projects such as terminal, FSRU, pipelines, etc.

2. Art. 47 Lack of clear and bankable terms of PPP contract. It is critical that an international form of bankable PPP contract is provided in the PPP Draft. Other related transaction agreements could be further developed as agreed by the parties but bankable templates should be drafted and attached to the guideline for implementation of PPP Draft.

Recommendation Terms and conditions of PPP contract are too general and vague.

Considering to provide a bankable PPP contract template in the PPP Draft or in the guiding decree / circular for PPP Draft.

3. Art. 57 It is not reasonable for forcing governing law to be the Vietnamese law. Especially, Vietnam has signed several international treaties and in principle allowed rules of such international treaties to be applied in PPP projects.

It is an international norm and feasible for a foreign related transactions to be governed by foreign law of a third country (not Vietnam or investor’s country) to the extent certain specific areas / agreements must be in compliance with Vietnamese law such as land regime, taxes, etc.

Recommendation: Considering for the parties to agree on the governing law of a third country (not Vietnam or investor’s country, e.g., Singapore law) to the extent certain specific areas / agreements must be in compliance with Vietnamese law such as land regime, taxes, etc.

4. Art. 80 The investment incentives are underdeveloped and quite similar as those provided under Decree 63. This is a safe approach but it would confuse the investors on the incentives and how to enjoy them under the PPP Draft.

Recommendation: Considering not referring to other laws and regulations on determination of investment, land and tax incentives for PPP forms.

For example, at least the PPP Draft should determine whether the PPP project could enjoy incentives such as an encouraged investment project or special encouraged investment project, etc.

5. Art.82 The conditions for foreign currency balance is very limited. As discussed above, only large scale projects prefer and may satisfy conditions of PPP investment forms. Thus, the scope for application of this foreign currency balance would need to be extended to all PPP projects, or at least for power projects and grid projects.

Foreign currency balance ensuring scheme is only applicable to projects subject to investment policy decision of the Nation Assembly and Prime Minister. In addition, there is a ceiling of 30% to be imposed.

In practice, several projects could not reach financial closure as scheduled because they cannot agree with the government about the convertibility of profits earned in local currency into foreign exchange for repatriation and payment for input commodities (coal, gas).

The demand for foreign currency associated with BOT projects and associated tariff revenues to be covered in the energy sector could escalate dramatically through 2030, up to US$23 billion/annually by 2030.

Recommendation: Considering to extend the scope eligible for foreign currency balance.

Foreign exchange convertibility has been a concern among investors. In the absence of such government convertibility guarantees, there is limited availability of currency hedging instruments that would allow private investors to cover currency risks through the market. The assurance on the availability of foreign currency shall definitely facilitate investment procedures. The ceiling of 30% should be removed as well.

Government guarantees for other obligations such as off-taker obligations and obligations towards infrastructure, payment obligations (including deemed commissioning and termination payments), etc. depending on projects.

6. Art. 83 Revenue risk sharing mechanism: (i) the investors, PPP project enterprises shall share with the State 50% of the increase between actual revenue and committed revenue in the contract; and (ii) the State shall share with the investors, the PPP project enterprises 50% of the decrease between actual revenue and committed revenue in the contract if, inter alia, the project does not use state’s budget and the cause of the loss is the change of policies, laws.

Recommendation: The risk sharing mechanism should be further developed to cover all other risks that may arise during the implementation of the PPP project (e.g., force majeure, change in law, price fluctuation, low selling price, etc.)

7. N/A Long negotiation process: it is due to several issues: (i) no clear list of approvals for the Project to be ready-to-build and / or operation, (ii) land site clearance and compensation process is still very challenging, (iii) not all decisions / procedures having a clear time-limit.

Recommendation: Recommending to provide all time-limits for all decisions / procedures and it is deemed to be provided if the state authority fails to issue such decisions. In addition, it is recommended to have a basic ready-to-build approval list for the investors to pursue and operate the PPP projects.

Please do not hesitate to contact the author Dr. Oliver Massmann under Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, Member to the Supervisory Board of PetroVietnam Insurance JSC and the only foreign lawyer presenting in Vietnamese language to members of the NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF VIETNAM.

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The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the author and are not to be construed as legal advice.

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