Category Archives: Vietnam – Market Access

Vietnam’s draft new solar tariffs – more sun, less cents, more sense

A new proposed tariff structure for solar energy projects in Vietnam sets out different rates for different irradiation regions and gives long-awaited indication of direction for the market after 30 June 2019.  On 29 January 2019, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (“MOIT“) released parts of a draft decision to update the country’s current feed in tariff (FiT) structure which is only valid until 30 June 2019 (the “Draft”).

The Draft is of course still just that, a draft, but forecasts a clear change in strategy with respect to FiTs.

Under the current FiT policy (regulated by Decision 11 and Decision 16) there is only one FiT for all projects regardless of location.  That is an internationally respectable FiT of 9.35 US cents per kWh for all on-grid solar power projects that achieve commercial operation date (“COD”) prior to 30 June 2019 (with the exception of some projects in Ninh Thuan province which have a later COD timeline).

The Draft however sets out a wide range of differing FiTs that vary based on: (i) when COD happens, (ii) location (3 regions are identified based on solar irradiation data), and (iii) the type of solar projects (i.e., floating, ground-mounted, integrated storage system or rooftop solar).

The table below shows what the Draft contemplates:

Projects with COD from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020

 

Solar power types Region 1 (see regions below)

(28 northern provinces with annual solar irradiation of up to 1,432.8 kWh/m2/year)

Region 2

(6 central provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of up to 1,676.1 kWh/m2/year)

Region3

(29 central highlands and southern provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of up to 1,910.3 kWh/m2/year)

VND / kWh US cent equivalent VND / kWh US cent equivalent VND / kWh US cent equivalent
Floating solar power projects 2,135 9.35 1,838 8.05 1,612 7.06
Ground-mounted solar power projects 2,095 9.18 1,802 7.89 1,583 6.94
Solar power projects with integrated storage system N/A N/A N/A N/A 2,052 8.99
Rooftop solar power projects 2,448 9.85 1,933 8.47 1,697 7.43
Projects with COD from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021

 

Floating solar power projects 2,028 8.88 1,746 7.65 1,531 6.71
Ground-mounted solar power projects 1,990 8.72 1,712 7.50 1,504 6.59
Solar power projects with integrated storage system N/A N/A N/A N/A 1,949 8.54
Rooftop solar power projects 2,023 8.86 1,740 7.62 1,527 6.69

 

While no changes will please everyone, especially the many developers who have committed considerable resources based on assumptions of the current FiT rate, the changes still indicate strong support for solar power projects generally and a rational approach to reflect the markedly different irradiation levels across the country.  Such an approach should take some pressure of heavily-stretched Southern hotspots (stretched from both power infrastructure and bureaucratic bottleneck perspectives).

We will continue to monitor this and update further as possible.  Meanwhile, we’d be delighted to hear views from developers and financiers about the change of strategic policy direction and FiTs forecast by the Draft.  Get in touch and tell us what you think.

Region 1: comprising 28 northern provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of 1,225.6 – 1,432.8 kWh/m2/year or daily solar irradiation of 3.36 – 3.92 kWh/m2/day. Including: Ha Giang, Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Thai Nguyen, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Lang Son, Quang Ninh, Phu Tho, Vinh Phuc, Bac Giang, Hai Duong, Hoa Binh, Hanoi, Ha Nam, Bac Ninh, Hung Yen, Hai Phong, Ninh Binh, Thai Binh, Ha Tinh, Nam Dinh, Quang Binh, Thanh Hoa, Lai Chau, Nghe An and Son La.

Region 2: comprising 6 central provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of 1,456 – 1,676.1 kWh/m2/year or daily solar irradiation of 3.99 – 4.59 kWh/m2/day. Including: Quang Tri, Dien Bien, Thua Thien Hue, Quang Nam, Da Nang and Quang Ngai.

Region 3: comprising 29 central highlands and southern provinces of Vietnam with annual solar irradiation of 1,703.9 – 1,910.3 kWh/m2/year or daily solar irradiation of 4.67 – 5.23 kWh/m2/day. Including: Kon Tum, Ca Mau, Hau Giang, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Bac Lieu, Kien Giang, Soc Trang, Gia Lai, Can Tho, Vinh Long, Tra Vinh, Dak Lak, Khanh Hoa, Lam Dong, Ben Tre, Tien Giang, An Giang, Dak Nong, Ho Chi Minh City, Dong Nai, Dong Thap, Ba Ria – Vung Tau, Long An, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Tay Ninh, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan.

For more information about Vietnam’s solar and renewable energy sectors, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com, Tran Thanh at MTTran@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.

Draft Decree to implement Cybersecurity Law doesn’t dampen concerns

A draft Decree to implement Vietnam’s controversial Cybersecurity Law does little to assuage fears that all online commercial activity will be within its scope, mandating physical presence in Vietnam, expensive, cumbersome data localization and even a new permit.

 

Last June, Vietnam’s National Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Cybersecurity Law and it will take effect on 1 January 2019.  Despite assurances from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) – author of the Law – that the Law is aimed at ensuring online security and protecting critical information infrastructure, its wide and unclear language caused concern for online commercial service providers whose activities are captured by its scope and worried about the cost and other implications of compliance, particularly with respect to commercial presence and data localization obligations.

 

Since the Law’s approval, many have been waiting to see the government Decree that will effectively interpret and implement the Law.  The Decree will determine whether and how the Law will truly impact online commercial activity.  Will it be business as usual for online commerce, as promised by a government that publicly embraces Industry 4.0, or will data hosting services and compliance officers be working overtime?

 

During the first half of October, two different versions of the draft Decree came into the public sphere. The latest draft, dated 11 October 2018, contains 66 clauses, touching on almost every single issue and clause of the Law itself.  While draft Decrees can and do change, the signs are that restrictions and headaches will remain for companies with online business activities.

 

Take, for example, the question of who will need to establish a commercial presence in Vietnam.  Under the Law, companies providing any kind of services related to or via telecommunication networks or the Internet, and which collect, process, analyze, or exploit the personal data of users in Vietnam (regardless of nationality) will need to establish a representative office or a branch in Vietnam (Article 26.3).  Many wondered whether this was intended to apply to every single company falling within the very broad criteria.  For example, would a bank in Ireland offering online banking services used by a handful of Vietnam-based users be subject to this requirement?  It would seem unnecessary and wholly impractical to say so.  The draft Decree however seems to support such a view.  According to Article 60 of the draft Decree, all companies providing “services through the Internet” will be subject to the requirement to establish a commercial presence in Vietnam (in the form of a branch, a representative office or other type of “establishment”).  “Services through the Internet” is understood very broadly by the draft Decree to include anyone providing: (1) internet connection services, (2) internet access services, (3) data storage, (4) social network, (5) over the top services (think, Netflix), (6) e-commerce, (7) banking and finance, (8) messaging and teleconference services, (9) live chat services, (10) search engines, (11) games, films, music.

 

While this clarifies and elaborates the Law’s general drafting, the long list is troubling as it clearly covers not only tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google, but also companies simply having auxiliary Internet-based services or the Irish bank in our example.

 

In a similar vein, the draft Decree sheds more light on the data localization rules but does little to assuage fears that the regulations are for the sake of regulation rather than based on risk analysis and purpose-driven policy.  According to Article 61 of the draft Decree, certain personal data will need to be stored in Vietnam by companies for the lifetime of the business, while certain other personal data need only be stored for three years from the date of creation. At any time, the MPS may request companies to provide copies of such data.  On the plus side, there is no indication that companies cannot transfer data abroad, provided they also maintain it in Vietnam. The list of personal data that companies need to store in Vietnam is extensive, including typical information such names, addresses and photos but also extending widely to include biometrics, financial records, health records, political views, and philosophical beliefs (items that need to be stored for the lifetime of the business).  Further information looks worrisome from a civil liberties perspective, including chat logs, and search histories, which will need to be stored for at least three years from creation.

 

Aside from the regulatory compliance burden, these requirements may put companies into difficult positions if they face conflict complying with their own local regulations prohibiting the transfer of data to foreign governments (take, for example, the US CLOUD Act).

 

A brand new element introduced by the draft Decree is an obligation on companies subject to the Law to obtain a special permit from the MPS prior to providing services in Vietnam.  No such requirement is included in the Law itself and this calls into question the legality of the MPS ‘creating’ this new permit obligation.  It’s cause for serious concern if this remains in the final Decree, not least of all because there is no guidance or explanation on procedures, information or timeline required to obtain such a permit.  It is also entirely unclear if this new permit obligation will apply retrospectively to companies already doing business in Vietnam over the Internet.  Any way you look at it, this is harmful for the business environment in Vietnam and contrary to the message delivered by the MPS and government in consultations and meetings about the Law.

 

The only good news in the draft Decree seems to be the decision that companies will have a full year to comply with the Law, meaning, in effect, that even though the Law takes effect on 1 January 2019, companies won’t need to be compliance until January 2020.

 

Time will tell what ultimately stays in and out of the Decree.  The draft is expected to be finalized and formally adopted by the government in the next weeks.

 

For more information about the Cybersecurity Law in Vietnam, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com, Le Hau at HNLe@duanemorris.com. Giles is co-General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

Why you shouldn’t miss out on Vietnam’s industrial property market

Though comparatively young among its regional peers, Vietnam’s economy is turning up some exciting areas of opportunity. One of the most promising is the industrial property market, comprising industrial land, ready-built factories, warehouses and other logistics properties.

 

Slowly but surely, the country is moving from a labour-intensive to a capital-intensive economy, and over the next few years we will continue to see a shift towards the more value-added sector.

 

This means that the industrial sector will begin to incorporate more sophisticated requirements, demanding a higher level of expertise and technical equipment. At the moment, industrial parks remain sparse and there is no concerted effort to gather industries on a regional level.

 

However, Vietnam’s manufacturing and processing sector accounted for over 40 percent of the country’s foreign direct investment (FDI) last year, which surged to a record high of US$36 billion overall. This trend looks set to continue.

 

Get in on industry

 

Currently, the city of Hai Phong and province of Bac Ninh are the two localities boasting the highest number of industrial parks in the country. They are also the biggest draws for industrial investment in the northern economic region.

 

France’s FM Logistic, a leading warehouse supplier, recently launched a 5,000 sq.m logistics warehouse in Bac Ninh while purchasing an additional 50,000 sq.m in the north to build the first European-standard storage centre in Vietnam.

 

Other areas around the country are showing similar signs of strong development and investors would be wise to get in early.

 

In fact, the country’s largest supplier of industrial property, the BW Industrial Development JSC, debuted in the southern province of Binh Duong earlier this year. BW is a joint-venture between US private equity fund Warburg Pincus and Vietnam’s Investment and Industrial Development Corporation (Becamex IDC), with investment of over US$200 million.

 

Betting on the country’s booming manufacturing sector and rising domestic consumption, the company has bought land for eight projects in five localities around Vietnam, with a focus on developing institutional-grade logistics and industrial properties.

 

A well-connected hub

 

Among several notable advantages increasing Vietnam’s attractiveness to industrial investors, the country’s proximity to some of the world’s major sea trading routes offers huge opportunities to develop maritime transport, particularly for logistics services.

 

The country’s border with China makes it a promising option for manufacturers looking at alternative locations in Southeast Asia while operating costs in China continue to head upwards.

 

Additionally, the nation’s household income is likely to increase. According to recent research, Vietnam is expected to enjoy the strongest growth in the middle-income population bracket, with a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 19 percent from 2018-2020, and an increase of 14 percent from the previous decade.

 

A young population coupled with growth in average income will boost purchasing power and help the country retain its spot as a top investment destination in Southeast Asia.

 

The fruits of free trade

 

Vietnam’s industrial real estate sector is also expected to get a helping hand once the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) comes into effect.

 

The passage of the deal has been smooth so far, and players both at home and abroad are already considering ways in which they can benefit from each other’s markets. Tariff cuts and streamlined regulations will precipitate a surge in investment, and a big slice will go into the industrial sector.

 

Acknowledging the oncoming wave of interest, the Prime Minister approved spending of up to US$921 million on infrastructure development around economic zones and industrial parks by 2020. This heavy investment has been earmarked for roads, drainage and water waste treatment facilities, as well as power infrastructure for industrial parks and clusters, hi-tech parks and hi-tech agricultural zones.

 

Major cities are also eyeing increased industrial attraction, especially from abroad. Under the development plan for Hanoi, the city will have nine more industrial parks on a total area of 2,360 hectares by 2020, an increase of 132 percent against current supply.

 

Easing the entry of foreign players to such parks would help in boosting occupancy. It remains to be seen whether the pledged cash will complete the connection of factories to road networks, as well as promote the growth of residential and commercial areas around the parks. If the strong demand is anything to go by, these requirements are likely to be met soon.

 

For these reasons, Vietnam is becoming more appealing to foreign manufacturers, their associated suppliers and supporting industries. Investor interest in the industrial market is on the up, in industrial zones as well as in income-producing industrial assets, build-to-suit opportunities and logistics-based warehousing.

 

Huge opportunities exist in Vietnam for both existing players and new manufacturing firms to snap up significant market share and get in on the ground floor. This area is certainly one to keep an eye on.

 

For more information about Vietnam’s industrial sector, 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.

Location, location, location – 5 areas to watch in Vietnam

With the second fastest growing economy in the world after China, Vietnam offers investors an almost overwhelming range of ways to get in on its continuing success story.

 

From energy to real estate, transport to tourism, a multitude of areas are experiencing growth and attracting domestic and foreign investment. The push to ease regulations is set to continue, and the government is working to ensure an evermore fertile business climate. But with so many options, where is a good place to start?

 

Here are five spots currently generating some real excitement:

 

  1. Soc Trang

 

The Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang recently held an investment promotion conference and, with the backing of the Prime Minister, managed to rally investment pledges totalling nearly US$5.4 billion. The 47 projects are mainly focused on clean power generation, high-tech agriculture and tourism services.

 

With work already underway to reform and streamline administrative procedures, a new injection of cash could inspire even more growth over the coming years.

 

During the conference, the PM set out an aggressive development strategy for the province, underlining his vision that the coming decade would see Soc Trang expand its economy to achieve middle-income status.

 

Specifically, the province was urged to set its sights on high-tech agriculture adapted to climate change, clean seafood production and processing targeting high-value markets and eco-tourism linked with ‘smart’ agricultural models. To achieve this kind of sustainable development, provincial authorities will need to invest in human resources and education. Co-operative models between farmers, investors, banks and distributors will help the development of value chains and quality standards for agricultural products.

 

  1. Ninh Thuan

 

For those with eyes on the renewable energy sector, the province of Ninh Thuan is looking like a hot prospect. Construction on the country’s biggest solar power plant, with a capacity of 168 MWp and total investment of roughly US$194 million, commenced in the southern province early in June.

 

The plant is a project by Singapore’s Sunseap Group – a large provider of clean energy solutions – and is slated to cover an area of 186 hectares. Once operational in June 2019, the plant is expected to supply over 200 million kWh of electricity to the national grid annually.

 

Sunseap is not the only player taking advantage of the province’s valuable location and abundance of sunlight, with four other plants kicking of construction this year in Ninh Thuan. With backing from provincial leaders, the province aims to become a renewable energy hub, with the generation of 2,000 MW of solar power by 2020.

 

So far, the province has 15 wind power and 27 solar power projects, with designed capacity of nearly 800 MW and 1,808 MW, respectively.

 

  1. Ho Chi Minh City

 

With properties priced at a fraction of those in neighbouring Singapore and Thailand, Vietnam is drawing a number of real estate investors and becoming a popular destination for foreign buyers.

 

Interest in Ho Chi Minh City, in particular, has been growing among foreign buyers with a number of projects already for sale and some approaching completion in the next one to two years. Given the political stability of the government, some investors see Vietnam as having the possibility to grow like China.

 

Home prices in Vietnam have been rising over recent years, making a modest increase last year on the back of 6.8 per cent economic growth and rapid increase in direct foreign investments.

 

  1. Coastal hot spots

 

The hotel and hospitality sector is experiencing a resurgence in Vietnam, with many properties reporting strong occupancy rates and a large number of new operators entering the market, especially in coastal areas such as Da Nang and Nha Trang.

 

These sites were already known as popular destinations for both domestic and foreign tourists, with the number of international guests visiting the country reaching over 13 million last year. In the first four months of 2018, more than 5.5 million international guests visited Vietnam, an increase of 29.5 percent over the same period last year. As interest continues to mount, so too do opportunities for investors in the hospitality sector.

 

Thanks to the strong development of tourism infrastructure and improvements in accommodation, cities like Da Nang and Nha Trang now offer a wide selection of hotels, luxury resorts and beach villas to suit a range of budgets and preferences.

 

Condotels are a growing trend in this sector, and several developers have adopted this model as a method of refinancing. Experts forecast that up to 18,000 condotel units will be added to the market in the next two years in key tourism destinations, accounting for 60% of the total new supply.

 

With major groups such as Vingroup, Sungroup, FLC, Muong Thanh and Empire, as well as well-known international brands snapping up segments of Vietnam’s hospitality market, this area will be one to watch in the coming years.

 

  1. Quang Binh

 

The central province of Quang Binh has drawn up a list of 48 projects to be completed in the 2018-2020 period, with total expected value of over US$2.2 billion.

 

The projects are expected to cover more than 8,000ha of land, with a focus on tourism, trade and services, industry, and agriculture, as well as education and health care.

 

Of the projects, 14 are in tourism, including coastal and ecological tourism and resort complexes. These are considered high-value projects that will spur local job creation, boost the budget and foster tourism development in the province.

 

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.

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 Special Economic Zones – sorting fact from fiction

A significant amount of recent media coverage has been devoted to the subject of special economic zones (SEZs) and controversies surrounding their establishment in Vietnam. Faced with mounting public anger, Vietnam had delayed a final decision on the establishment of three new SEZs.

 

Economic zones are not a new phenomenon, with 18 coastal economic zones and 27 border economic zones already present in Vietnam. The establishment of these areas was part of the country’s early economic reforms and they were designed to offer a range of incentives to investors, including free tariffs on selected items, lower personal income tax and reduced rent and fees. There are a further 325 state-supported industrial parks, which offer a more limited range of incentives.

 

What is an SEZ?

 

An SEZ is a designated area in a country that is subject to unique economic regulations that differ from other areas in the same country. Such areas are used to convey financial and legal advantages on businesses and encourage them to invest. SEZs are one of the most widely used methods to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), and have been deployed successfully around the world.

 

The Vietnamese government has shown a strong desire to develop SEZs, where it hopes relaxed regulations will in turn spearhead regional and national growth. This issue has been high on the agenda, especially at a point where the country needs breakthrough institutional reforms to maintain its growth momentum.

 

To ensure the success of SEZs in Vietnam, the Ministry of Planning and Investment studied experiences from 13 other countries around the world with both successful and failed SEZ development models. Based on that research, a model for SEZ development suitable for Vietnam’s economic conditions was drawn up in the new Law on Special Administrative-Economic Zones.

 

At a cost of VND1.5 trillion (US$66 billion), three new SEZs were proposed for the provinces of Quang Ninh and Khanh Hoa, as well as on the southern resort island of Phu Quoc. As per the plan, investors were to be offered greater incentives and fewer restrictions than available in other parts of the country, kickstarting investment. The freedom from local regulations is expected to make them competitive internationally and foreigners were to be lured with tax breaks and streamlined routes to permanent residency.

 

Notably, based on the specific geographic advantages of the three SEZs, the MPI proposed several preferential industries to focus on and develop for each zone, including high-tech sectors, tourism and trade.

 

The development of Phu Quoc in particular is high on the agenda, as the government has highlighted its potential as a commercial, service and trade hub which adheres to international standards. Indeed, land prices shot up on Vietnam’s largest island following news that it was slated to become an SEZ and authorities stepped in to suspend land use conversions and land transfers in the zones until a new SEZ law is passed.

 

Among infrastructure projects planned for Van Don, in the northern province of Quang Ninh, is an international airport which would connect the area with other Asian cities such as Shenzhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong. This is in line with the government’s plans to establish Van Don as a tourist hub.

 

Courting controversy

 

The draft legislation on the new SEZs submitted to the National Assembly earlier this year sparked concern over an article allowing land in the three special zones to be leased by foreign investors for up to 99 years.

 

Critics of the bills say allowing foreigners to own land for nearly a century could pose serious threats to the country’s national security, with simmering tensions over the South China Sea an ominous backdrop to the proposals.

 

Attempting to allay concerns, the Prime Minister announced that the 99-year term would be reconsidered. Even so, approval of the plan has been pushed back until the next session of the National Assembly so that kinks can be ironed out.

 

Unfortunately, reducing such terms could limit the ability of SEZs to attract foreign investment. Experts have argued that such provisions are essential to incentivise and stabilise long-term investment projects. Extended timeframes for land allocation are crucial to attract the big investors required to ensure success of the zones. In comparison, legislation in other countries allows significant extensions when investing in an SEZ.

 

Other issues raised include the generous tax incentives, which could breed unhealthy competition, and a lack of consideration for environmental issues.

 

Investing in three SEZs at the same time is a risky gamble for Vietnam and requires careful management and resource distribution to ensure their success. Quibbles over the details risk unsettling investors, and watering down attractive land use and tax policies could doom the endeavour before it’s begun.

 

The development of SEZs should be considered a framework for testing economic reforms for the economy as a whole, creating spillover effects and building experience to perfect institutions.

 

A reform-oriented mindset and willingness to experiment with incentive models will be crucial in bringing the SEZs to life. More thought will be needed to address the concerns of voters, but lawmakers shouldn’t lose sight of the need to incentivise investors with radical ideas.

 

For more information about investment 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.

What can be done to help Vietnam’s SMEs?

Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are central to Vietnam’s economic growth, providing significant contributions to job creation, export promotion and poverty reduction.

 

However, despite accounting for some 98 percent of the country’s enterprises, 40 percent of GDP and 50 percent of employment, the performance of SMEs is still constrained by many factors, both internal and external, such as shortage of qualified human resources and limited access to technology, as well as administrative hurdles.

 

Despite the obstacles, the number of SMEs continues to grow, adding around 100,000 in 2016, thanks to government reforms. For this trend to continue, and to meet the goal of one million enterprises by 2020, changes are needed to smooth the entry of firms to the market and help startups to grow. Here are three steps to ensure the sustainable development of smaller firms in Vietnam:

 

  1. Improve access to credit

 

Among the detrimental external factors, lack of access to credit is considered the primary obstacle preventing the growth of SMEs. Up until now, banks providing commercial loans have allocated their resources to larger firms rather than smaller enterprises, citing higher default risks, lack of financial transparency and lack of assets as factors in the decision.

 

Complex banking procedures and a shortage of appropriate loan packages for SMEs compound the problem.

 

According to the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business 2018’ report, Vietnam ranked 68 out of 190 economies – jumping 14 places against the previous year. The country ranked 29 out of 190 economies in terms of their access to credit. In terms of both score and ranking, Vietnam measured well above the average for OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) members and East Asia-Pacific countries.

 

The World Bank attributed the country’s position to its legal framework regarding the expansion of collateral assets and the completion of the credit information system from 2008 to 2017. Specifically, the Civil Law 2015, which came into effect on January 1, 2017, has expanded the scope of assets to be used as mortgages, which helps improve access to credit and puts businesses and investors in a better position.

 

Despite the positive figures, a large number of enterprises still find it cumbersome to access bank credit and are often denied.

 

Therefore, one of the most important measures to support SMEs is to improve their access to loans. Diversified capital raising channels and a credit market for SMEs, with appropriate lending packages based on demand, could help to decrease the dependency on banks. In return, small firms should work on improving transparency to reduce risks.

 

  1. Link up to global supply chains

 

As of 2017, only 21 percent of Vietnamese SMEs were participating in global supply chains, much lower than neighbours like Thailand and Malaysia, sitting at 30 percent and 46 percent, respectively. Integrating further with global supply chains in terms of procurement, operations and sales will allow firms to manage competition, reduce risks and cut costs.

 

Slow progress in dismantling state-owned enterprises, sluggish productivity and an uncompetitive private sector result in a shortage of private medium-sized enterprises. This ‘middle segment’ needs to link up with well-managed supply chains to dominate markets, gain trust from customers and expand business strategies. Vietnamese firms have struggled to join big markets and are left out of crucial supply chains.

 

This situation can change. As a member of APEC, ASEAN and the WTO, Vietnam holds a critical position politically and geographically. Vietnam’s proximity to southern China, home to many production networks, also gives it a competitive edge. Taking advantage of these trade opportunities, as well as coming digital and e-commerce trends, would help to streamline the country’s supply chains and build a more dynamic private sector.

 

  1. Cut red tape

 

A survey released last year by the Vietnam Private Sector Forum showed that 44 percent of enterprises said they had missed market opportunities because of legal barriers and restrictions.

 

In an effort to simplify and remove barriers to businesses, Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) has moved to cut business and investment red tape in half. Such a move is designed to make administrative procedures easier for the private sector, and especially small and medium enterprises. The country’s business environment has been gradually changing as the government moves to develop the private sector.

 

This is a step in the right direction, however, the results are neither meeting the expectations of enterprises, nor government targets. Vietnam’s administrative environment has long been criticised for being too complicated and creating unnecessary barriers for businesses. Analysts often complain that the many conditions and regulations in the country do not meet international standards, such as requirements on minimum or legal capital or human resources rules.

 

The World Bank suggested that the country needs to do better at supporting early-stage businesses, particularly in dealing with construction permits, registering property and enforcing contracts.

 

These are just some of the obstacles standing in the way of Vietnam’s smaller businesses. With the Law on Support for Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SME Law, 04/2017/QH14) coming into force at the start of 2018, it is hoped that the challenges detailed above will be addressed. A dynamic, competitive and innovative private sector, in which SMEs play a leading role, is a solid guarantee of Vietnam’s future prosperity and growth. The government has shown a desire to help the country’s fledgling firms, now is the time to put words into action.

 

For more information about Vietnam’s investment climate, 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.

3 reasons smart investors are banking on Vietnam

Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expanded by 6.81 per cent last year, marking its highest growth rate in a decade. The country continues to impress, with the economy growing by 7.38 percent in the first quarter of 2018 – one of the fastest rates in Asia – and total growth is expected to be in the region of 6.7-6.8 percent for the year. It could even hit 7.1 percent, according to the Asian Development Bank.

 

Looking ahead, the Vietnamese Government is seeking to maintain the country’s good growth until at least 2020, with the Prime Minister encouraging private companies – currently accounting for 43 per cent of GDP – to grow and increasing investment into rural areas.

 

There’s much to celebrate about Vietnam’s growth over the last few years, and many investors have already taken note and got in on the action. For those still on the fence, here’s just three reasons why a bet on the country’s economy may pay off handsomely.

 

Switched on to electronics

 

Other countries in the region tend to export raw materials or components to China, where they are assembled into other products. Vietnam exports mainly finished goods.

 

One such producer, the Samsung Electronics factory in Thai Nguyen, in northern Vietnam, employs more than 60,000 people and produces more mobile phones than any other facility in the world. Samsung Electronics’ combined factories in Vietnam produce almost a third of the firm’s global output. So far, the company has invested a cumulative US$17 billion in the country.

 

The relationship has been mutually beneficial, helping to make Vietnam the second-biggest exporter of smartphones in the world, after China. Samsung alone accounted for almost a quarter of Vietnam’s total exports of US$214 billion last year.

 

The company’s presence in Vietnam will not stop there, with co-CEO, Koh Dong-jin, recently informing the Prime Minister of plans to expand production and open further plants.

 

Samsung isn’t alone in Vietnam’s exciting electronics landscape. The export turnover of electronics and household electrical appliances accounted for 28.9 percent of total export turnover. Mobile phones & components, cameras and other machinery brought in revenue of US$61.8 billion, an increase of US$14.45 billion compared to the year before.

 

An international mindset

 

Vietnam received FDI worth 8 percent of GDP last year — more than double the rate of comparable economies in the region. Foreign-owned firms now account for nearly 20 percent of the country’s output. They have grown more than twice as fast as state-owned enterprises over the past decade, despite the country’s nominally communist government.

 

In contrast to China, a large rival in the cheap manufacturing stakes, Vietnam is liberalising its economy to welcome foreign industry. In 2015 the government opened 50 industries to foreign competition and cut regulations in hundreds more. It sold a majority stake in the biggest state-owned brewer, Sabeco, to a foreign firm last year. Similar sales are expected in the coming months.

 

Vietnam’s enthusiasm for free-trade deals has made it especially alluring to foreign investors. It is a founding member of the Trans Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade agreement that includes Australia, Canada and Japan, among others. Although the agreement fell apart without US support, it was quickly repurposed and renamed. A significant trade pact with the European Union is also on the horizon. The deal signed with South Korea a few years ago has made it South Korea’s fourth-biggest trading partner.

 

Fertile ground for start-ups

 

The government has put forward a number of regulations and programmes to support start-ups, especially innovative ones, including Decree 38/2018/ND-CP (Decree 38) on innovative start-up investment. Decree 38 identifies and recognises innovative start-up investment activities as a business, and cements the legal status of innovative start-up companies and funds.

 

The decree is expected to provide a legal basis for private investors when jointly contributing capital to establish a creative start-up fund and streamline capital flows for creative start-up activities.

 

According to the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), the country boasts a strong entrepreneurial drive and ranks among the 20 economies with leading entrepreneurial spirit.

 

Up to US$291 million was poured into Vietnamese start-ups last year, a year-on-year increase of 42 percent. However, this figure lags behind the region as whole, which saw investment of US$7.86 billion. The number of M&A deals remains small and no startup has yet made an IPO. Clearly, there is still a lot of room for growth in this sector.

 

The great potential hasn’t gone unnoticed and the government has recognised the tremendous importance that the start-up movement has to the economy and accelerated its development.

 

As well as a young, cheap and plentiful supply of workers, the Vietnamese economy possesses a dynamism unlike others in the region. Nurturing such domestic entrepreneurship is the key to sustainable growth. The Vietnamese government has already set out ambitions of creating a vibrant ‘start-up nation’, with a million new enterprises being born by 2020.

 

These are just a few of the reasons why smart investors should be seriously considering Vietnam as their next investment destination. In addition to the above, economic growth will be driven by manufacturing and export expansion, rising domestic consumption, strong investment fueled by foreign investors and domestic firms, and an improving agriculture sector. These is an abundance of optimism over the country’s future, and the signs are that this year Vietnam will be one of the strongest performers in the region.

 

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.

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.

Vietnam steps up sale of SOEs

Hopes abound that a new Decree will drag the near-moribund process of privatising large State-owned enterprises (SOEs) into a new and more efficient phase.

 

Over the past 30 years, the restructuring of SOEs has been a key component of Vietnam’s economic reforms under Doi Moi (renovation). The process has been undertaken by successive governments and is a central pillar to creating the business-friendly climate desired by the current leadership.

 

Nevertheless, it remains largely a work in progress. According to a report by the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM), since 1992, Vietnam has ‘equitised’ over 4,500 enterprises (‘privatized’ being considered an unsuitable term for Vietnam and not always accurate anyway given the propensity for the State to maintain controlling stakes).  The fact is that many of these took place in a short period of time and were smaller production units of large conglomerate-type corporations.  The CIEM report concluded that progress is below expectations. SOEs have struggled to attract strategic investors and sale of shares has not reduced the level of State budget in SOEs’ charter capital, as was hoped.

 

There are multiple reasons for the disappointing progress including restrictions on foreign ownership, and the State’s desire to maintain ultimate management control.  Opaque valuations and concerns over transparency also deter strategic and other investors from getting involved in the process and ultimately slow it down.

 

To continue growing, Vietnam is under increasing pressure to reform the equitisation process for its SOEs, with new efforts being made to accelerate the government’s divestment. Under plans announced earlier this year, the government will equitise a further 137 SOEs in the 2016-2020 period.  Many of those slated are large and some can be considered the cream of the crop.

 

This renewed motivation is driven in large part by the government’s need to mobilise financial resources to deal with a rising fiscal deficit and public debt. The country’s obligations under a number of free trade agreements also provide impetus to break up the big entities.

 

Determining demand

 

Recently, a significant change was announced in a bid to speed up equitisation of SOEs: the law will change to allow book building as a means of determining interest and price for IPOs of SOEs.

 

Up until now, the equitisation of Vietnam’s SOEs has been handled through public auction, direct negotiation and underwriting. Most have adopted the public auction method, but this has proved unattractive to investors, with even big assets like Vinamilk failing to generate the expected interest.

 

Under new Decree 126/2017/ND-CP, the Prime Minister has instructed the Ministry of Finance to prepare detailed guidelines on implementation of book building to facilitate efficient IPOs as part of the equitisation process.

 

This method of price discovery, used widely internationally and now approved for the first time in Vietnam in connection with equitisation purposes, is expected to make the process more efficient and attractive to strategic investors.  Decree 126 also eases restrictions on the profitability of strategic partners (from three to two years), cuts the lock-in period (from five to three years) and provides more detailed guidance on valuations of SOEs generally (notably removing reference to DCF valuation and providing more clarity around valuation of land use rights and goodwill).

 

It is hoped that this move, to take effect from 1 January 2018, will enhance transparency in SOE equitisation and hasten the hitherto slow listing on the country’s stock exchanges. The Decree will have a particular impact on the next wave of SOE IPOs, slated for 2018-19.

 

Energy giants next?

 

An area in dire need of extensive equitisation is the energy sector. In order to ease electricity shortages, attract more investment and boost economic growth the country will need to tackle inefficient State-owned power actors.

 

The issue of power shortages could come to a head in the next four years, with forecasts predicting that annual growth in electricity consumption will start to match, and possibly outpace, the installed capacity growth. If consumption continues to expand at a similar rate to the last decade (an average of 12 percent a year) the country could soon be facing a power crisis.

 

This gloomy scenario is looking increasingly likely, considering that foreign direct investment (FDI) into the manufacturing sector, which accounts for 50 percent of total electricity consumption, has doubled over the past four years to reach US$63.1 billion. Luckily for businesses, the government is keen on keeping this development trend going, and having the electricity to power it.

 

Recent reports in the media state that the government has lined up a series of sizable IPOs of major power corporations, including PV Power, EVN Generation Corporation Number 3 (Genco 3) and Binh Son Refining and Petrochemical Company Limited (BSR). If the above projections on power demand growth are anything to go by, Vietnam’s power sector holds significant potential, and may prove an irresistible offer to foreign firms. This offer, however, is contingent on the government breaking up the energy giants and levelling the playing field for investors. Official approval of the book building method for pricing IPOs is a start.

 

PV Power, the country’s second-largest electricity producer, plans to auction a 20 percent stake through its IPO scheduled for the end of this year, and 28.8 percent of shares will be sold to strategic investors. Meanwhile, the equitisation of Genco 3 is awaiting the government’s go-ahead.

 

The changes above demonstrate a willingness to step up the equitisation of SOEs, with looming budget considerations providing a timely incentive. Beginning next year, the slow process may finally gather some much needed pace and see involvement of foreign players previously put off by the state of play.

 

For more information about Vietnam’s equitisation and IPO processes, 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.