Category Archives: Vietnam – Free Trade Agreement – European Union-Vietnam

EU-Vietnam FTA Finally To Come Into Force In Early 2019? Comments on Government Procurement

Image on "EU-Vietnam FTA" created by authorVietnam Investment Review reported that the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) will likely be ratified in October or November 2018 and come into effect in early 2019:

“EU firms to bid on public contracts”

Besides quotations from our Co-General Director in Vietnam, my  comments on government procurement under the FTA were featured in the above article as follows:

“The government procurement provisions in the EU-Vietnam FTA are a big step for Vietnam. Vietnamese suppliers will have access to the EU’s US$500 billion public procurement market. For Vietnam and its people, the EVFTA’s government procurement provisions should, over time, improve access to high-quality goods and services from EU suppliers.

Improvements are especially expected in the healthcare and life sciences sectors, as Vietnam’s public procurement in these sectors takes up 67% of the total market value. Vietnam has committed to give EU suppliers the right to bid for up to 50% of the pharmaceutical purchases by the Ministry of Health and many of the hospitals under its control, as well as major research facilities. Even so, this is a very gradual process over a period of 15 years after the FTA comes into effect.

The right to participate in Vietnam’s public tenders will initially be limited to relatively high-value contracts – those worth at least SDR 1.5 million (currently, $2.1 million) or SDR 3 million ($4.2 million) depending on the procurement agency. For construction work, the initial thresholds are even higher at SDR 40 million ($56 million). This is probably meant to protect Vietnamese small and medium-sized businesses.

The EVFTA also contains specific transparency and other requirements to support the procurement process itself, including an independent administrative or judicial authority where suppliers can challenge awards.”

Besides public procurement in healthcare, the EVFTA also provides access to other important government contracts. EU suppliers will be able to bid for contracts from Electricity of Vietnam, the State-run power company, and those of other major infrastructure projects, including roads, railways, and airports.

For more information, please contact Manfred Otto at MOtto@duanemorris.com or any other lawyer at Duane Morris.

The firm’s disclaimer applies to this post.

Cometh the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement

The Vietnam – EU Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), a new-generation free trade agreement between Vietnam and the EU’s 28 member states, is a comprehensive and high-quality trade pact that is expected to bring a range of benefits to both Vietnam and the EU.

For many years the EU has been the second largest overseas market for Vietnamese products and Vietnam’s second most important two-way trading partner after China. On average, Vietnam’s exports of commodities to the EU account for around 19 percent of its exports to global markets. This figure has seen double-digit growth for the past decade, annualised at 13-15 percent, and even reaching 25 percent in certain years.

The EVFTA, which is expected to be signed this year, will have a wide-ranging impact on bilateral trade and investment thanks to tariff cuts and strong commitments from both sides. The deal has been heralded as the most ambitious of its kind between the bloc and a developing nation, and one which will put an end to 99 percent of customs duties on goods. Some predictions are that the agreement will boost the Vietnamese economy by up to 15 percent of GDP and exports to Europe by a third or more.

On top of providing more development opportunities for Vietnam’s industries it will also help to improve the country’s investment environment and raise the quality of its export products.

What can investors expect to change with the new deal?

The most prominent benefits to be expected are an increase in the trade of goods promoted by the reduction or elimination of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, whereby key economic sectors as textiles, footwear and the high-technology industries in Vietnam would benefit most.

One sector in particular hoping for a big boost is fisheries. Under the EVFTA, aquatic products, excluding canned tuna and fish balls, will enjoy a zero tax for a maximum of seven years. Similarly, in good news for shrimp processing firms, Vietnam will enjoy a reduction in import duties on raw shrimp and export duties on processed shrimp to the EU.

The reduction of tariff lines will help Vietnamese seafood exporters reduce prices significantly, improve competitiveness and export turnover. Vietnamese aquatic firms will also have space to improve technology and product quality, join regional supply chains and diversify supply sources.

Additionally, Vietnam’s commitments to ensure an open and transparent investment and business environment will help to boost high quality investment from the EU into Vietnam.

Sink or swim

However, Vietnamese companies should also be aware of the challenges brought about by free trade agreements, and especially the EVFTA. These are related to higher requirements from the EU market in terms of transparency and competition, both for private and state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

The FTA is not necessarily seeking complete privatisation, but rather the opening up of those economic sectors where SOEs are present. Vietnamese enterprises may expect to see an impact from this process, provided that the FTA promotes reforms in public procurement.

The tax cuts will put a greater burden of competitiveness on domestic producers in terms of prices, product quality and food hygiene and safety. Firms will face a choice – either adapt and move up the global supply chain, or stand by while imported goods flood the market.

The livestock industry is forecast to be at the biggest disadvantage as taxes on chicken and pork will be cleared under an 8 to 10-year roadmap, while import duties on beef, milk and dairy products will be eliminated over a shorter period of 3 years. Consequently, over the short and long term, the animal husbandry industry will be under fierce competition with products imported from the EU.

Additionally, many Vietnamese products have not yet met the necessary food hygiene and safety regulations or the technical standards of importers.

To benefit from the trade deal’s incentives will require exports to satisfy the EU rules of origin, which presents its own challenges for several Vietnamese sectors. For instance, the EU has set rather stringent rules of origin on the cashew nut sector that depends on 63 percent of imported materials. To satisfy all EU regulations, Vietnam is required to use local raw material supply.

The EVFTA also stipulates detailed regulations on procedures and legally binding conditions covering the time-limit and manner in which countries must obey certificates of origin procedures for each specific case. This is a big challenge for Vietnam as the origin traceability capacity to prove those origins remain inadequate and the necessary system for such diligence is yet to be seen.

Short term pain, long term gain?

As Vietnam’s economy grows and the country continues to integrate more deeply into the global marketplace, the kind of dilemmas thrown up by pacts like the EVFTA will become more commonplace. In the short term, domestic firms may feel the heat as increased competition takes its toll. However, greater export opportunities and requirements to reach higher standards will underpin future economic growth.

If predictions are correct and the EVFTA is signed within the next few months, Vietnam is destined to become the most promising business destination for European businesses in ASEAN.

For more information about investing in Vietnam, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Vietnam’s New Cyber-Security Law a Headache in the Making

Vietnam’s National Assembly yesterday overwhelmingly approved a heavily-debated Cyber-Security Law that could have significant impact on all online service providers with clients or customers in Vietnam.  While the stated aim of the new Law is to “protect national defense and ensure social order”, it imposes obligations on digital businesses that could have far-reaching and unintended effects without necessarily advancing the Law’s primary objective.  Key among such obligations are data localization and mandatory commercial presence rules that should worry not only tech giants but any company providing online services to customers in Vietnam.

While much of the commentary has focused on social network providers (e.g. – Facebook, Youtube) or ‘pure tech’ behemoths (e.g. – Google), the language of the Law is broad and potentially captures a wide range of business activities and models.  First and foremost, the Law appears to cover all enterprises (whether based onshore or offshore) that “provide services on the telecommunication network, internet, and other value-added services on the internet in Vietnam.”  In the digital age, this wide language covers a vast array of activity and is clearly not limited to social media services.  Take banks as an example.  If a foreign bank provides an online service to a client in Vietnam (including a non-Vietnamese citizen resident in Vietnam), will it be covered by this Law?  The answer is clearly yes according to the wording of the Law.  Another example would be an online booking services company like AirBnB which is accessible to, and used by, residents of Vietnam.  Again, such service activity is clearly covered by the wording of the Law, whether or not that is the true intent.

Once a company is covered by the Law, other requirements may apply.  For example, the Law requires companies to “authenticate upon registration” and “keep confidential” users’ information.  Critically, companies (wherever located) must also cooperate with the authorities to provide information of their users when such users are investigated or deemed to breach laws on cybersecurity.  Companies also need to grant the authorities access to their information system when there is “a serious breach of law or action causing serious loss to the public order and safety.”  Unclear as ever, these regulations will require further elaboration in implementing Decree(s), as well as implementation in practice, before the true implications can be known.

Another significant requirement is data localization.  Compared with earlier drafts, the version approved by the National Assembly appears to narrow down the kinds of companies which must perform data localization.  Nevertheless, the potential scope is broad: companies which “collect, exploit, analyze, or process” personal information, information created by users in Vietnam and data on the relationship of the users must store data locally for a period of time.  However, the language of the Law on this is still very vague and, absent further guidance, open to discretion of the authorities to interpret.  To take previous examples, a bank could be deemed as “collecting, exploiting, analyzing, processing” personal information of users in Vietnam when it establishes or provides online banking services for such clients.  A booking reservation company, or an online film provider (e.g. Netflix) does the same.  Read literally, all such companies will need to ensure data localization within Vietnam.

Not only that, such companies will also be required to establish commercial presences in Vietnam (either a branch or a representative office).  Oddly enough, it is unclear whether establishment of a fully-fledged subsidiary in Vietnam would be sufficient under the Law.  Many companies supply services to their customers in Vietnam via the internet without having a commercial presence in Vietnam.  This kind of blunt instrument will cause uproar and, one presumes, flagrant violations will abound which, for the most part, authorities in Vietnam will be unable to pursue on any practical level (though the desire and ability to shut off access to individual websites may grow over time).  The Law gives some wriggle rooms on this point by assigning the Government to elaborate the commercial presence requirement further and we may find that the scope will be narrowed down.

Many tech and non-tech companies voiced their concerns in the lead up to this Law. However, the National Assembly justifies its approval based on the need to ensure national defense and security.  A National Assembly spokesperson has stated that the regulations are feasible and not contrary to free trade agreements that Vietnam is a party to.  The jury however remains out on both these points.

The Law will take effect on 1 January 2019.  Implementing Decree(s) are expected to elaborate further prior to then though no drafts are available for review at present.

By Giles Cooper and Le Nguyen Duy Hau.  For more information about the new cyber-security regulations in Vietnam, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com, Hau at HNLe@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing.  Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

L’impact de l’initiative “La Nouvelle Route de la Soie” sur le développement de l’infrastructure au Vietnam

Peu abordé au Vietnam, “La Nouvelle Route de la Soie” est le sujet de ma présentation lors d’un colloque sur les PPP organisé par la Chambre de Commerce et d’Industrie France-Vietnam et L’Association des Juristes en Coopération Economique et Affaires Internationales (AJCEAI) le 2 mai 2018 à l’Institut Français de Hanoi. OBOR-Vietnam Infrastructures-AJCEI-2018-05-02-S

Outcomes of APEC – the TPP is dead, long live the CPTPP

As the dust settles and Vietnam returns to some semblance of normality following this year’s APEC summit, regional business leaders and investors are left to consider the consequences of the forum.

 

This year marks the second time that Vietnam has hosted the APEC summit, and the event was largely considered a success for the country. Vietnam was placed in a difficult position, between the competing interests of the United States and China, requiring a deftness in diplomacy.

 

Most media outlets were more concerned with President Trump and what would be his first appearance at a multilateral forum in the Asia-Pacific region. Widely-expected faux pas did not materialise, but neither did much news on the US’ position towards the region. Trump’s keynote speech was short on surprises, following familiar themes of protectionism, isolationism and criticism of predatory economic policies. Essentially, the speech underlined what we already know – that under the Trump administration the US would be taking a step back from the Asia-Pacific region and trade will need to be conducted on a bilateral basis.

 

In a marked contrast to the American tirade, China’s President Xi Jinping presented himself as a champion of economic openness and globalisation. Xi espoused a vision in support of a multilateral trade regime, and received hearty applause in return from the amassed delegates.

 

Putting his words into practice, Trump’s subsequent stop in Hanoi saw the signing of US$12 billion in commercial deals, including in the natural gas, transport and aviation sectors. In particular, national carrier Vietnam Airlines signed a deal worth US$1.5 billion for engines and support services from US firm Pratt & Whitney.

 

Despite the very different stalls set up by the attendant superpowers, Vietnam managed to balance itself somewhere in between. In a joint statement, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Trump reaffirmed the importance of the countries’ Comprehensive Partnership, and agreed to promote bilateral trade and investment.

 

Vietnam also stood in support of Xi’s signature policy, the Belt and Road Initiative. Specifically, both sides agreed to enhance economic and trade cooperation, with a particular focus on infrastructure.

 

Regional and international media praised Vietnam’s hosting of the summit and the final Economic Leaders’ Week, highlighting the country’s commitment to economic integration, sustainable growth and support for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). In the eyes of many, Vietnam has cemented its position at the centre of APEC’s economic structure. The country took advantage of the opportunity to enhance its prestige in the international arena and show others the strides it has made in development since it last hosted APEC.

 

Resurrecting the TPP

 

Trump’s election last year seemed to herald the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), at least in its current form. Without US support, the trade agreement was surely destined to be forgotten or watered down to the point where it becomes worthless.

 

The US withdrawal failed to dampen enthusiasm for the trade pact, however, with Japan and Australia strongly advocating the continuation of talks, and protecting the gains made in the original TPP negotiations.

 

Following discussions in Danang, the 11 countries still backing the TPP agreed to its resurrection, and renaming, as the Comprehensive Progressive Agreement for the TPP (CPTPP). The move represents a clear rebuke to Trump’s ‘America First’ focus on bilateral deal-making. Despite a last-minute wobble from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the members agreed on keeping core elements of the original deal that would advance open markets, combat protectionism, and strengthen regional economic integration.

 

Vietnamese leaders were certainly sorry to see the US turn its back on the TPP; knowing that access to American markets would have brought significant economic benefits. Although a deal is better than no deal, the CPTPP is expected to have a more modest impact on the nation’s economic future.

 

The National Center for Information and Forecasting predicts that under the CPTPP, Vietnam’s GDP could increase by 1.32 percent, compared to a potential 6.7 percent with the TPP. Similarly, the export growth rate is estimated at 4 percent, instead of the 15 percent previously. If the CPTPP is ratified, Vietnam would also be able to expand its export markets, with opportunities to reach Canada, Mexico and Peru.

 

Nevertheless, there is still room for the CPTPP to be derailed – the pact requires domestic ratification by each member economy. While Japan has already done so, other members, particularly Canada, could require longer to officially validate the pact.

 

There are, however, reasons to be optimistic. Many were certain the US withdrawal would be the death knell for trade pacts like the TPP, only to see America’s Asia-Pacific allies regroup and move forward on their own. There is clear commitment to regional economic integration, with or without America’s blessing.

 

A multilateral trade deal would provide much-needed clarity for businesses, especially smaller ones, in entering new markets. Universal standards would make life a lot easier for the region’s many MSMEs looking to expand their operations across borders. Those working in the digital sector would benefit from a framework on data security, privacy, intellectual property and e-commerce.

 

Even after Trump withdrew the US from the TPP, the original template survived almost wholly intact. The bar remains high, and the remaining members now have the opportunity to hash out a progressive framework for continued economic growth.

 

Although Donald Trump received the most attention in Danang, the main achievement of APEC may be the reanimation of a deal he sought to kill. This time the harsh rhetoric may have had an unintended consequence – pushing the region even further towards economic integration and free trade.

 

For more information about doing business in Vietnam, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Spotlight on APEC and Vietnam

While Vietnam’s central city of Danang is abuzz with preparations for the upcoming APEC Economic Leaders’ Week, and the much-anticipated visit by US President Donald Trump, businesses and investors are waiting for clearer signals on the US approach to the country and the region.

 

Unlike the visit of former president Barack Obama in 2016 and his administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy, Donald Trump has been less forthcoming about his stance on Southeast Asia. The moves that have been made – scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for example, heavily suggest the US is pivoting away again, and have seriously dented Vietnam’s free trade aspirations.

 

Some remain upbeat, saying that President Trump’s attendance at the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Danang this November is a positive sign, underscoring the US’s commitment to the partnership between the two nations and the region as a whole.

 

Trump’s speech at the summit will likely be the first articulation of his administration’s strategy towards the Asia-Pacific region. The White House has indicated a United States’ “vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” The details of this vision will no doubt have a big impact on the way international businesses view the region in the years to come.

 

Planned meetings between Trump and Vietnamese leaders in Hanoi are hoped to continue the thawing of relations that was accelerated under the Obama administration. During Obama’s visit in 2016, the arms sanctions that had been in place for over five decades were lifted, effectively transforming Vietnam into one of the United States’ leading comprehensive strategic partners in the region. Companies from the two countries inked new commercial deals involving planes, engines and wind energy, worth more than US$16 billion. Now, Vietnam is a major trading partner and free-trade advocate.

 

Politically, it is hoped that some more flesh will be put on the bones of the US foreign policy towards Southeast Asia, particularly on subjects like the South China Sea.

 

Focus on free trade

 

Setting aside predictions on US behaviour, the summit in Danang will gather economic leaders of 21 APEC members to discuss issues of shared concern, including the future of trade in the region – an issue of heightened importance considering the demise of the TPP. APEC is a key trading bloc, comprising 39% of the world’s population, 59% of its GDP and 48% of its trade. It is also a proponent of free trade, and since its inception in 1989 average tariff rates among members have fallen by nearly two-thirds – from 13.3 per cent in 1989 to 5.1 per cent in 2015, while intra-regional trade has risen more than seven-fold. Vietnam’s average most-favoured-nations (MFN) tariffs declined from 18.5 per cent in 2007 to 9.5 per cent in 2015.

 

All APEC member economies have set trade and investment liberalisation as a priority, through reduced trade barriers and the promotion of the free flow of goods, services and capital among APEC economies.

 

The region as a whole has enjoyed strong economic growth, and Vietnam is considered an attractive investment location, with opportunities bolstered by an emerging middle class, a young population, a skilled labour force, competitive labour costs, strong GDP growth and a stable political climate.

 

Indeed, the trade liberalisation process encouraged by APEC is having a positive effect on FDI inflows into Vietnam. Japan in particular is showing a healthy interest, currently positioned as Vietnam’s second-biggest foreign investor, with 3,523 valid investment projects, registered at US$46.15 billion. Even without the TPP, Vietnam’s involvement in a number of other free trade agreements helps improve the country’s attractiveness to foreign investment.

 

If Vietnam continues adopting APEC-promoted institutional reforms, and thus reduces the fees and risks associated with doing business in the country, this attractiveness can only improve. Currently, more needs to be done to create a business-friendly investment environment and reassure businesses that trade and investment disputes can be resolved with little fuss. Reassuring investors is a key priority for Vietnam to maintain its growth trajectory. The successful involvement of the country in forums like APEC helps to present an image of economic stability and strong leadership underscores its commitment to issues raised at the summit.

 

All eyes on Danang

 

Through hosting the 2017 summit, Vietnam has the opportunity to showcase itself as a business tourism and conference destination. Discussions in Danang will seek to establish new drivers for economic growth and cement the role of APEC in tackling common challenges in the region. Vietnam’s position of leadership will enhance its stature on the world stage and initiatives raised could attract global interest.

 

Large-scale FDI projects from APEC members have already made significant contributions to Vietnam’s socio-economic development. Giants like Samsung, Intel and Honda have established a presence in the country and could consider increasing their investments. Smaller players may also see similar potential.

 

For local businesses, the APEC meeting presents a golden opportunity to promote trade and investment with foreign partners. Representatives from thousands of international enterprises are expected to descend on the beachside resort, allowing for prime networking and the establishment of partnerships. Vietnam’s investment climate has improved markedly since it last hosted the summit in 2006, so observers can expect even more deals to come out of Danang.

 

For more information about Vietnam and APEC, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Plenty of life in Vietnam’s M&A market despite bumps

Globally, 2017 has been an unpredictable year for the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) market, with the hangover of political and economic instability from 2016 inspiring caution among investors.

 

Foreign investment has been put on the back foot due to rising protectionism and the failure of promising free trade deals like the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). Vietnam in particular has suffered and will need some big breakthroughs to regain lost momentum.

 

Although the TPP would have brought some big benefits to Vietnam, it is expected that other trade deals on the horizon will make up most of the shortfall. The nation has joined six regional FTAs as an ASEAN member, including the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and the five FTAs between ASEAN and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, as well as four bilateral FTAs with Chile, Japan, South Korea and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). Negotiations over an FTA with the European Union (EU) have also been concluded.

 Sluggish start

 

Whereas 2016 was an exciting year for M&A in Vietnam, 2017 has gotten off to a slower start. According to a report released in advance of the M&A Forum (August 10, HCMC), deals in Vietnam hit an all-time record of US$5.8 billion in 2016, a growth of 11.92 percent compared to 2015. However, the market has slumped since the latter half of last year with fewer headline signings. The total value of M&A activity reached just US$1.1 billion in the first quarter, a drop of 24.4 percent year-on-year.

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