VIETNAM – LATEST GUIDE TO CONTRACT MANUFACTURING AND TOLLING AGREEMENTS

I. VAT and Customs

In many cases, the principal in the contract manufacturing relationship owns some or all of the raw materials, work-in-process and finished goods throughout the manufacturing process. The principal and many of the suppliers are typically outside of the manufacturing jurisdiction.

1. What Are The VAT, Customs And Related Costs (e.g. Broker Fees) That Arise When A Foreign Principal Has Goods Drop-shipped Into Your Jurisdiction To The Local Contract Manufacturer? In Particular, Is There Any Non-recoverable VAT? Are There Strategies For Avoiding Or Reducing This VAT Cost?

Most regulations on the Vietnamese VAT regime are included in the Law on Value Added Tax No. 13/2008/QH12 of the National Assembly, as amended by Law No. 31/2013/QH13 and Law No. 71/2014/QH13.
Under Article 17.3 of the Law on Tax Management 2019, importers are obliged to pay tax in full and in a timely manner, including the VAT.

This norm includes the concept of drop shipping, which means an arrangement between a seller and the manufacturer or distributor of a product to be sold. According to the arrangement the product will be shipped to the buyer directly by the manufacturer or distributor and not by the seller. This definition can be understood as an alternative form of import. The law does not make any differences on the way that goods are delivered. Therefore drop shipping is not subject to tax exemptions or reductions.

It should be noted that no VAT is raised for goods in transit or transshipment or crossing Vietnamese borders as well as goods temporarily imported and re-exported and goods temporarily exported and re-imported. There are no further special regulations for drop shipping supplies.

2. In Many Cases The Principal Supplies Equipment That The Local Contract Manufacturer Uses In The Manufacturing Process. This Equipment May Remain In The Local Jurisdiction For A Substantial Period Of Time. Any Addition VAT Or Customs Issues That Are Unique To The Capital Equipment That The Principal May Import?

Capital equipment is not subject to the catalogue of VAT exemptions. According to the Law on Amendments to the Law on Value Added Tax 2013, the following objects are exceptionally not subject to VAT: “Machinery, equipment, parts, and materials that cannot be produced at home and need to be imported to serve scientific research, technological development; machinery, equipment, parts, specialized vehicles, and materials that cannot be produced at home and need to be imported to serve petroleum exploration; airplanes, oil rigs, and ships that cannot be produced at home and must be imported to form fixed assets, or need to be hired from foreign partners to serve production, business, or to lease back.”

3. Have There Been Any Recent Developments That Impact The VAT, Customs And Related Costs Applicable To Such Structures?

On 25 March 2015, the Ministry of Finance issued Circular No. 38/2015/TT-BTC, according to which machinery and equipment suitable for investment field, target, and scale of the investment project, satisfying other certain conditions, imported as fixed assets of investment projects in the fields or areas eligible for preferential import tax are exempted from taxes.

In 2016, the Government issued a Draft Decree on the implementation of the law on import and export tax, but to date, it still has not been approved.

Vietnam’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on 14 January 2019 and its ratification of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) on 1 August 2020 have eliminated import and export taxes for numerous tariff lines. For instance, nearly 100% of Vietnam’s exports to the EU will be eliminated import tax after the 10-year journey of EVFTA. So far, this is the highest level of commitment a partner gives Vietnam in a trade agreement. This is especially meaningful when the EU has been one of the two largest export markets of the country.

II. Permanent Establishment

1. As Noted Above, The Principal May Own Raw Materials, Work-In-Process And Finished Goods In The Local Jurisdiction. Is There Any Significant Risk That The Principal Could Have A Local PE Due To The Fact That It Has Such Inventory In The Country? Does It Matter Whether The Principal Has A Local Warehouse?

In Vietnam companies overseas conducting business activities through resident establishments in Vietnam are liable to pay corporate income tax.

According to the definition in Article 2.3 of the Law on Corporate Income Tax, Resident establishment means a business establishment through which a company overseas conducts all or a part of its business activities in Vietnam. A resident establishment of a company overseas can take different forms that are listed in the Law on Corporate Income Tax.

This list includes a representative in Vietnam that has authority to enter into contracts in the name of the oversea company or a representative that is not competent to enter into contracts on behalf of the foreign company but regularly engage in delivery of goods or provision of services in Vietnam.

This very broad reference might also include principals with assets as named above. These elements are not likely to form the risk of a permanent establishment in Vietnam but the authorities decide about permanent establishments on a case-by-case basis.

Where a treaty on avoidance of double taxation to which the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a signatory contains different provisions relating to resident establishments, such treaty shall prevail over local laws as determined therein.

2. Does The Answer Change If The Principal Also Owns Capital Equipment That It Has Provided To The Local Contract Manufacturer?

The ownership of capital by the principal does not necessarily bear the risk of a permanent establishment.

3. In Many Cases The Local Contract Manufacturer Purchases The Raw Materials (Either In Its Own Name Or As A Purchasing Agent Acting On Behalf Of The Principal) Because It Knows The Production Schedule Better Than The Principal. In Addition, In Some Cases The Contract Manufacturer May Have More Leverage With The Suppliers. Please Address Any Additional PE Issues That May Arise If The Contract Manufacturer Also Acts As A Purchasing Agent On Behalf Of The Principal.

The Law on Corporate Income Tax provides that the business conducted by a company overseas can be regarded as a resident establishment if the company has an agent that has authority to enter into contracts in the name of the company overseas. Given this the situation above might likely give rise to a PE.

4. In Certain Cases, The Principal Will Have Its Own Employees Or Agents In The Factory To Supervise The Contract Manufacturer, Provide Quality Assurance And Sometimes Technical Information. To What Extent Would Independent Or Dependent Agents (That Do Not Have Contract Concluding Authority) Providing Such Services, Combined With The Other Facts Set Forth Above, Result In A PE For The Principal. To The Extent That Actual Employees Or Staff May Result In A PE, Can The Principal Avoid The PE By Forming A Local Subsidiary To Employee The Staff? If So, Can The Subsidiary Be Compensated On A Cost Plus Basis?

Considering the aforementioned definition of a resident establishment under Law on Corporate Income Tax, if the principal wants to avoid having a PE issue, he/she might establish a Representative Office [“RO”] to perform the tasks named above. This is possible as long as the RO is not doing business.

According Commercial Law and its guiding decrees, any foreign business entity that has lawful business registration in accordance with the law of the foreign country and has operated for at least 01 (one) year shall be issued with a license to establish a representative office in Vietnam.

5. To The Extent That A PE May Arise In Any Of The General Fact Patters Described Above, Comment On Whether Additional Income Would Be Attributable To The PE. Can The Principal Argue That It Has Paid An Arm’s Length Gee Such That There Is No Additional Income That Such Be Taxed In The Jurisdiction? If So, What Transfer Pricing Methodologies Would Typically Be Used To Determine The Amount Of Income Attributable To The PE?

If there are no special rules in tax agreements, the principal can calculate on an arm’s length basis.

The Ministry of Finance has released a Circular on Transfer Pricing that requires companies to make a full self-assessment of their profits, calculated on an arm’s length basis. According to this Circular, companies will be required to declare the related party transactions in a prescribed form and submit it within 90 days from the year end. Furthermore, the Circular provides an obligation for companies to maintain transfer-pricing documentation to set out the evidence that they have taken place on arm’s length terms.

If companies fail to comply with these terms they risk double taxation and penalties.

III. Local Incentives

1. Is The Taxpayer’s Ability To Obtain A Tax Incentive Or Holiday Diminished By Operating Under A Risk-Stripped Structure Where The Local Entity Receives Cost Plus Remuneration?

Exemptions from and reductions of Corporate Income Tax are listed in Law on Corporate Income Tax 2008, Circular 78/2014/TT-BTC, Circular 151/2014/TT-BTC and Circular 96/2015/TT-BTC.

Tax incentives are provided in cases of encouraged investments. This term covers enterprises located in special export processing zones, enterprises that export a certain percentage of the manufactured goods or enterprises with a certain number of Vietnamese employees or laborers.

The contract manufacturer may carry forward their losses of a financial year to offset against future profits for a maximum of 5 years after the year incurring loss. The enterprise can freely choose how to allocate the loss to the later 5 years. When the 5 years period has lapsed but the loss has not been fully carried forward, the loss cannot be carried forward to the next year.

2. Is The Taxpayer’s Ability To Obtain A Tax Incentive Diminished By The Lack Of Locally Owned Intangible Property?

Vietnam tax law does not address this issue.

3. Are There Any Other Aspects In Contract Manufacturing Structures That May Impact A Taxpayer’s Ability To Obtain A Tax Incentive Or Holiday?

Law on Investment 2021 and its guiding decree No. 31/2021/ND-CP include an extensive list of projects entitled to tax incentives. Dependent on the project’s location, business lines, number of employees, etc., the tax reduction can range between 10 and 50%.

IV. Conversion And Transfer Pricing Issues

In many cases, U.S. and European multinationals initially establish their local manufacturing operations in Asia as buy/sell entities because they have a local income tax holiday or exemption of some kind for a period of years. The local entity may even own intangibles and bears risk. When the local holiday or exemption ends (or the CFO decides the tax rate is too high), the parent may wish to convert the local entity into a contract manufacturer for a principal in a low-tax jurisdiction to reduce the income earned locally.

1. In Some Jurisdictions, The Local Authorities May Find That The Local Entity Owns Some Goodwill Or Going Concern Value As A Result Of Its Historic Operations. The Authorities May Assert Capital Gains Tax And Possibly Dividend Withholding Tax On Value Of The Goodwill Or Going Concern Value On The Theory That The New Principal Is Somehow Acquiring The Goodwill Or Going Concern Value In Connection With The Conversion. Is This An Issue In Your Jurisdiction? If So, What Planning Steps Can Be Taken To Minimize This Cost?

This issue is not relevant in Vietnam.

2. In Many Cases, The Local Contract Manufacturer Is A Wholly-Owned Subsidiary Of The Principal. In Such Cases, The Principal May Wish To Compensate The Contract Manufacturer On A Cost Plus Basis, With The Uplift Being A Percentage Of The Manufacturing Costs (And Not The Value Of The End Product). Is This Approach Viable In Your Jurisdiction and What Issues/Exposures Arise In Connection With The Use Of Cost Plus Transfer Pricing?

Transfer pricing rules in Vietnam require that the enterprise pays and Vietnam receives a reasonable rate of return on its activities as if the parties were unrelated [the arm’s length principle]. Vietnamese tax law does not provide special rules regarding cost plus transfer pricing.

For more information on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the author Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. 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.