Vietnam’s renewable energy industry amid COVID-19: facts, force majeure and (patchy) Government support

Vietnam’s renewable energy development over the past three or so years can variously be described as frenetic, chaotic and heartening. Look past all the noise about non-bankable agreements, insufficient transmission infrastructure and bureaucratic black holes, and it’s clear the market has spoken. Vietnam currently has the largest installed solar capacity in Southeast Asia and is taking strides on wind too. Between May and July 2019, an incredible 82 ground mounted solar plants were connected to the national grid (total of 4,464 MW), more than 400% the target that had been set for 2020. The Ministry of Industry and Trade recently announced that the country is aiming to boost power output produced by renewable energy to about 23% by 2030.

The sector as a whole is also poised on the brink of a new phase. Feed in tariffs are coming to an end, low hanging fruit projects have been developed and local banks’ capacity to continue to finance development is stressed. Meanwhile, energy demand rises steadily and right-minded global citizens are clamoring for an end to coal and a rapid transition to renewable energy sources.

Into this heady mix arrived a novel corona virus and the disease known as COVID-19.

For all the momentum, the clean-energy sectors – solar, wind, energy storage, and companies transforming the power grid – will not escape the COVID-19 impact. They face serious questions across the board: from supply chain issues to workforce shortages, to more macro questions about the economy, energy demand and availability of finance.

New FiT announcement for solar does little to calm waters

Which is why the Prime Minister’s Decision 13 on 6 April 2020 announcing the new solar power feed in tariffs was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the market finally has long-awaited certainty over revenue stream. On the other hand, the COD deadline to qualify for the new tariffs – 31 December 2020 – is like a bad joke. See more about this here: https://blogs.duanemorris.com/vietnam/2020/04/07/solar-fit-2-finally-announced-in-vietnam-but-strict-timeline-remains/

In fairness, the 31 December 2020 deadline had been flagged for some time, but the long delay in making it formal, only to finally issue the Decision in a period of unprecedented global chaos and lockdown, with a deadline just 8 months away, almost seems cruel.

Module production facilities in Vietnam usually carry one or two months of supplementary materials inventory on-site. If production interruptions lasts longer than one month, factories in Vietnam will start to see supply shortages that will reduce their production output. Developers waiting for module delivery from mainland China in the second quarter of 2020 will very likely not see the orders delivered on time. Late module delivery will affect project construction schedules around the world, and projects with Q3 and Q4 2020 targets are likely to be hit particularly hard.

In other words, if you are a ground-mounted solar developer in Vietnam today and had been waiting for certainty of revenue stream before pulling the trigger on procurement (let alone land clearance costs), good luck.

Wind makes out better

Similar to the solar industry, COVID-19 has already interrupted the supply chain for wind power plants, which will lead to commissioning delays. Leading turbines suppliers have already announced delays in delivery dates for turbines and other essential equipment citing force majeure clauses in supply contracts.

Looking past supply, the longer strict public health measures stay in place, the more likely it is that equipment prices will be impacted as well.

At least for wind power projects, Vietnam’s Government seems to be listening. As a result of the COVID-19 situation and pleas from investors, on 9 April 2020, the Ministry of Industry and Trade proposed to the Prime Minister a FiT extension for wind projects until 31 December 2023 (a substantial 2+ years extension on the current deadline of 1 November 2021). The MOIT proposes in Official Letter 2491 that a new FiT should apply from1 November 2021 to 31 December 2023 and thereafter wind power tariffs should be subject to auction.

It remains to be seen if the MOIT proposal will be accepted and if prompt action is not taken, foreign clean energy development companies may withdraw from the wind and solar power market because of the possible negative impacts of COVID-19 on their global operations. Vietnam may lose investment disproportionately because it is considered a high-risk market. The virus could also make it harder to keep wind and solar farms up and running, due to travel bans and maintenance delays.

COVID-19 re-writes force majeure clauses

Where coronavirus causes business disruption, from fulfillment of deliveries to cancellation of events, a common question is whether commercial parties can rely on force majeure clauses in their contracts.

Vietnamese law defines force majeure in Article 56 of the Civil Code: “An event of force majeure is an event which occurs in an objective manner which is not able to be foreseen and which is not able to be remedied by all possible necessary and admissible measures being taken”.

For contracts that have been entered into prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, project developers will have to prove that the pandemic satisfies all three components of a force majeure event in order to rely on this statutory right. The first two can be easily met – the corona virus is an objective event that cannot be foreseen. However the trickiest part for developers would be the last component – whether the developer has taken all reasonable measures to prevent the effect of the pandemic on their project. This is a subjective test, and will need to be analyzed on a case-to-case basis taking actual facts into account.

Internationally, we see plenty of new drafting around force majeure terms expressly referencing COVID-19. An example is:

“Force Majeure Event means an event that wholly or partly prevents or delays the performance of obligations and/or the adherence to deadlines or time periods arising under this Agreement and shall include, without limitation, an act of God, explosion, accident, fire, lighting, earthquake, storms, flood or similar cataclysmic occurrence; an act of war, blockade, insurrection, riot, civil disturbance, sabotage, strikes, lockouts, or other labor difficulties; restrictions or restraints imposed by law or by rule, regulation or order of any federal, state or local government, governmental agency or quasi-governmental agency; a pandemic; COVID-19 (Coronavirus)-related events, including, by way of example but not limitation, quarantines, third party vendor shut downs, business shut downs, and travel restrictions; action or failure to act of any federal, state or local government, governmental agency or quasi-governmental agency; and interruption or other loss of utilities due to causes beyond the reasonable control of the Purchaser.”

Even though the force majeure clauses in standard wind and solar PPA do cover epidemic, they do not refer to epidemic-related events caused by third parties or those within the control of the government (government FM events). Since the power purchaser in Vietnam (EVN) is a State-owned enterprise, this raises the concern of EVN relying on government FM events to exempt itself from obligation. The lack of distinction emphasized between natural FM events and government FM events in the standard clauses, and the lack of expansion on the general reference to “epidemic”, puts power developers in a fragile spot amid this novel virus situation. As a result, it is advised that developers should always try to negotiate their PPAs to reflect international standards. This is of course easier said than done, but doesn’t mean efforts should be ignored.

On the developer’s side, it remains to be seen whether the standard PPA terms on force majeure might operate to allow extensions to COD deadlines, especially considering the deadlines are mandated in legislation. This is a topic that would bear much more scrutiny on a case-to-case basis.

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is Chairman of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office and Asia lead for Duane Morris’ Energy Industry Group.

COVID-19 GUIDANCE FOR BUSINESSES IN VIETNAM: DEFERRAL OF TAX AND LAND RENTAL PAYMENT

The Government on 8 April 2020 issued Decree 41/2020/ND-CP on extension of deadlines for taxes and land rental payment (“Decree 41”) with immediate effect to support businesses, among other subjects, affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

The relief available under Decree 41

Primarily, the decree extends deadline for payment of value added tax (VAT) excluding VAT for imports, corporate income tax (CIT), personal income tax (PIT) and land rental payment.  Specifically, eligible enterprises and organizations can defer their VAT amount payable for the assessment periods of March, April, May, June of 2020 (for monthly tax declaration cases) or the first two quarters of 2020 (for quarterly tax declaration cases) for five months.  They can also defer their final CIT payment of 2019 and their CIT provisional payments for the first two quarters of 2020 for a period of five months.

With respect to household businesses and individuals, the deferral of deadlines for VAT and PIT payments can be extended until 31 December 2020.

Regarding the land rental payment, enterprises, organizations, households, and individuals with direct land lease contracts with the State can defer the first installment of their annual land rental payment which are due on 31 May 2020 for five months.

The beneficiaries provided by Decree 41

It is worth noting that the relief provided by Decree 41 is only available to certain enterprises, organizations, households, and individuals.  The beneficiaries under Decree 41 includes:

  • Enterprises, organizations, households, and individuals operating in agricultural, forestry and fishery manufacturing; food processing and manufacturing; garment and textile manufacturing; wooden, metal, paper, plastic and rubber products manufacturing; metallurgy, mechanical engineering; electronic products, computers and optical products manufacturing; automobile manufacturing; and construction;
  • Enterprises, organizations, households, and individuals operating in transportation and storage services; accommodation and catering services; training and education; medical and social assistance activities; real estate businesses; labor and employment services; travel agents, tour businesses and supporting services relating to tour promotion; artists, recreational activities, sport activities, museums and cinemas; and
  • Enterprises, organizations, households, and individuals producing auxiliary and key mechanical products; micro and small-sized enterprises; credit organizations, and branches of foreign banks which support their customers affected by COVID-19 pandemic.

The required procedures to obtain the relief

Taxpayers must submit a pro forma request to the local tax authorities before 30 July 2020 to be considered for the extension of deadlines for relevant taxes and land rental payment.

For more information, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or Dang Ngoc Huyen at HDang@@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is Chairman of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC and branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office.

VIETNAM – COVID 19 – IMPLEMENTATION OF LAWS NOT UNIFIED IN ALL PROVINCES – On the continuity of business during COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization, causing huge impact on people’s lives, families and communities. Organizations are under certain concerns about the continuity of their business as how long the pandemic lasts for, a possible suspension order, unwanted contract terminations, force majeure issues, reduction of price, etc.

We understand your concerns and we trust the latest update on the Government’s instruction on the business continuity might provide you with some useful information at this stage.

1. The businesses entitled to continue operation

(“Directive 2061”) to instruct on the business that can continue operating during social distancing period i.e. until 15 April 2020 (and a possible extension to 30 April 2020 as recommended by the Ministry of Health of Vietnam), which includes:
• Factories, manufacturing units;
• Transport works, construction;
• Businesses providing essential services and essential goods, i.e. foods, medicine, petrol, oil, electricity, water, fuel, etc.);
• Education units, banks, treasury, services directly connecting to banks and auxiliary to businesses (i.e. notary offices, lawyers,registry of secured transactions, etc.), post, telecommunications, auxiliary services for transportation, import and export, health examinations and treatmenst, funeral, etc.
The above “etc.” phrase literally indicates that the list units permitted to operate is not exhaustive.
Directive 2061 allows each province in Vietnam to implement the PM’s instruction in their own way by saying the chairman of each province shall further instruct on this. Unfortunately, the implementation of the Directive is not unified across Vietnam territory.

2. The implementation of Directive 2061 in some areas

2.1. Hanoi City
Hanoi took a strict approach from the start of the pandemic prevention in its Directive 05 on 31 March 2020. Hanoi PC ordered non-essential shops and service-providers to suspend their activities.
On April 2020, the Department of Justice of Hanoi issued Document 925/STP-PBGDPL clarifying a number of measures to cement the social distancing requests. So far, Hanoi mainly focus on resitricting operations of the restaurants, consumers’ goods or other public places only.

2.2. Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh took a totally different approach, that it issued a Scoring System under Decision no.1203/QD-BCD. The Score System comprises a set of sub-indexes which does not base on the business lines, but based on the quantity of workers, the density in workshop, workers using sanitizers and wearing masks, etc. If the score of an entity is low or average, its operation can carry on, otherwise it must suspend.

2.3. Hai Duong Province

Hai Duong province takes a similar approach as Hanoi City. However, it has more regulation that factories do not carry out 3rd shifts. Hai Duong PC also requires a submission of a written commitment from all businesses in the province.

3. Required measures for businesses continuing its operation

Although the approach is different in each area, the required measures to ensure the safety and prevent the epidemic seems unified. The fortunate business which falls within the scope of being permitted to continue must implement the follows:
• Requiring employees to wear masks and equipping enough facility to prevent and control the epidemic as advised and recommended by health authorities;
• Requiring employees to conduct health report and comply with restrictions on moving, contact and communication;
• Suspension of unurgent activities, reduction of the concentration of employees;
• Organization and management of the transportation for employees to and from work (if any) must ensure the prevention of infection.
In case of incapable to ensure the above measures, business must suspend.
We trust some of the above info is useful for you at this stage. If you are not clear if your business in your respective Province can be affected by any of the above measures and requirements, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Please do not hesitate to contact the author Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com or any other lawyer in our office listing if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.
Thank you!

3 Things About Vietnam’s Updated Legal Framework for Biomass Power Projects

Despite abundantly available biomass feedstock of agricultural origin, ranging from sugar bagasse, wood chip to rice husks and stalks, biomass as a source of renewable energy does not seem to have received the same amount of attention from the government of Vietnam as solar or wind power. It took the government more than six years to acknowledge the modest results of the current incentives package and adopt measures to give a new push to the development of biomass power plants. This was done on 5 March 2020 when the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 08/2020/QD-TTg (“Decision 08“) amending Decision No. 24/2014/QD-TTg dated 24 March 2014 (“Decision 24“) on support mechanisms for the development of biomass power projects in Vietnam. Decision 08 introduces a number of important changes which will take effect on 25 April 2020.

Increase of the Feed-in-Tariffs (“FiT”)

The FiT for electricity produced by combined heat and power (“CHP”) biomass power plants will increase from USD 5.8 cents per kWh to USD 7.03 cents (VND 1,634) per kWh.

The government has also abandoned the use of avoided cost schedules (calculated based on the cost of electricity produced by coal-fired power plants) published annually for determination of the electricity purchase price from non-CHP biomass electricity producers. The FiT for these projects is set at USD 8.47 cents (VND 1,968).

The FiTs are exclusive of value-added tax and are adjusted according to USD/VND exchange rate. The new FiTs will be also benefit the biomass power projects which have started operating before 5 March 2020 for the remaining terms of their power purchase agreements (“PPAs”).

Technical standards for electricity generation equipment

Decision 08 introduces a new requirement to comply with technical standards applicable to biomass electricity generation equipment and quality norms applicable to electricity produced by biomass power plants. Similar requirements already exist in recent regulations applicable to solar and wind power projects. The technical standards and norms will be elaborated by the Ministry of Industry and Trade (“MOIT”) which is also responsible for the issuance of a new model PPA for biomass projects.

Possibility of alternative off-takers

Under Decision 08 Electricity of Vietnam (“EVN”) (directly or through its authorised group entities) remains the sole off-taker of the electricity generated using biomass. However, the new decision also opens the door to “organisations assuming the rights and obligations” of EVN (or its relevant group entities) to become biomass electricity off-takers. This new development is in line with the government’s road-map for the liberalisation of Vietnam’s electricity markets (wholesale and then retail) by 2025. It is not clear whether this would improve the bankability of biomass PPAs, since EVN, as a State-owned enterprise, still enjoys strong government support while such backing may not be available to other off-takers in the future.

The possibility of selling electricity produced by biomass power plants directly to end users is not contemplated by the government at this stage. A recently published draft regulation on pilot Direct PPAs does not seem to include biomass power projects.

The hope is that above changes will make biomass power projects more attractive for investors. Whether the government’s target to increase the share of electricity produced from biomass to 2.1 percent of the total generated electricity by 2030 set out in the Revised Power Development Master Plan VII is achievable still depends a great deal on the new biomass PPA and technical requirements for biomass power projects to be issued by the MOIT in the coming months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

EU-VIETNAM FREE TRADE AGREEMENT AND INVESTMENT PROTECTION AGREEMENT – MOST LIBERALIZED MARKET ACCESS FOR SERVICE SECTORS AND UNMATCHED LEGAL CERTAINTY – LATEST UPDATE – WHAT YOU MUST KNOW:

I. OVERVIEW

On the 2nd of December 2015, after almost three years and 14 rounds of negotiation, President Donald Tusk, President Jean-Claude Juncker and Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyen Tan Dung announced the conclusion of the negotiations on the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA). The EVFTA is a new-generation free trade agreement between Vietnam and the EU. On the 26th of June 2018, the EVFTA was split into two separate agreements: the Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA). In August 2018, the EU and Vietnam completed the legal review of the EVFTA and the EVFTA requires ratification by the European Council as well as the consent of the European Parliament, while the EVIPA required additional ratification by parliaments of each individual EU Member State.

On the 30th of June 2019, EU Commissioner for Trade Mrs. Cecilia Malmstrom, together with the Romanian Minister for Business Mr. Stefan-Radu Oprea, representing the EU, signed the EVFTA and EVIPA in Hanoi, together with H.E. Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Vietnamese Government leaders. The Prime Minister expressed his belief that the European Parliament, parliaments of EU Member States, and the Vietnamese National Assembly will soon ratify the EVFTA and EVIPA. Both Trade and Investment agreements were endorsed by the European Parliament on the 12th of February. The EVFTA was approved by the EU Council on 30th of March 2020, thus the implementation of the EVFTA is therefore imminent if the Vietnamese National Assembly gives its approval at its May session, meaning that an entry into force early this summer is possible for the EVFTA. It will take more time for the EVIPA to enter into force because this agreement is subject to the endorsement of the Member States’ parliaments.

Both agreements are expected to bring significant advantages for enterprises, employees, and consumers in both the EU and Vietnam. Vietnam’s GDP is set to increase by 10-15 percent while exports are predicted to rise by 30-40 percent over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the real wages of skilled labourers could rise by up to 12 percent, with salaries of common workers increasing by 13 percent. Once the EVFTA has entered into force, and once Government policies and institutional reforms begin to take effect, Vietnam’s business activities will boom. However, challenges still remain. In this chapter, EuroCham’s Legal Sector Committee will raise the issues relevant to their particular industries and make specific recommendations in order to address these concerns.

II. MARKET ACCESS FOR GOODS AND SERVICES

1. General market access for goods and services

The EVFTA is the most comprehensive and ambitious trade and investment agreement that the EU has ever concluded with a developing country in Asia. It is the second agreement in the ASEAN region, after Singapore, and it will intensify bilateral relations between Vietnam and the EU. Vietnam will have access to a potential market of approximately 446 million people and a total GDP of US$13,918 billion.

Meanwhile, exporters and investors from the EU will have further opportunities to access to one of the largest and fastest-growing countries in the region. According to a report released in early 2017 covering 134 cities worldwide, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City are ranked among the top 10 most dynamic cities due to their low costs, rapid consumer market expansion, strong population growth and transition towards activities attracting significant amounts of FDI. According to the World Bank, Vietnam has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world — 7.1% GDP growth in 2018, and 6.7% at the mid-point of 2019. To put that in perspective: Vietnam’s GDP is growing at almost twice the rate of the USA.

In addition, Vietnam has the fastest-growing middle class in the region. It is predicted to almost double in size between 2014 and 2020 (from 12 million to 33 million people). Vietnam’s super-rich population is also growing faster than anywhere else, and there is no doubt that it will continue to rise over the next ten years.

2. Market access for goods

Nearly all customs duties – over 99 percent of the tariff lines – will be eliminated. The small remaining number will be partially liberalised through duty-free quotas. As Vietnam is a developing country, it will liberalise 65 percent of the value of EU exports to Vietnam, representing around half of the tariff lines, at entry into force. The remaining duties will be eliminated over the next ten years. This is an unprecedented, far-reaching tariff elimination for a country like Vietnam, proving its aspiration for deeper integration and trading relations with the EU.

Meanwhile, the EU agreed to eliminate duties for 84 percent of the tariff lines and 71 percent of its trade value for goods imported from Vietnam immediately at the entry into force of the EVFTA. Within 7 years from the effective date of the EVFTA, more than 99 percent of the tariff lines will have been eliminated for Vietnam. This is a wider reduction compared with the 95 percent of the tariff lines that the former TPP countries offered to Vietnamese imports. In the ASEAN region, Vietnam is the top country exporting goods to the EU. However, the market share of Vietnam’s products in the EU is still small. As a result of the EVFTA, the sectors set to benefit most are main export sectors that used to be subject to high tariffs from the EU including textiles, footwear, and agricultural products. The EU is also a good point for Vietnam to reach other further markets.

Vietnam will benefit more from the EVFTA compared with other such agreements, since Vietnam and the EU are considered to be two supporting and complementary markets. In other words, Vietnam exports goods that the EU cannot or does not produce itself (i.e. fishery products, tropical fruits, etc.) while the products imported from the EU are also those Vietnam does not produce domestically, including machinery, aircraft and high-quality pharmaceutical products.

With better market access for goods from the EU, Vietnamese enterprises could source EU materials, technology, and equipment at a better quality and price. This, in turn, will improve their own product quality and ease Vietnam’s burden of over-reliance on its other main trading partners.

The EVFTA is considered as a template for the EU to further conclude FTAs with other countries in the ASEAN region with the aim of concluding a region-to-region FTA once there is a sufficient critical mass of FTAs with individual ASEAN countries. This process could take about 10-15 years. Thus, Vietnam should take advantage of this window of opportunity before FTAs with others in the region are concluded and take effect to become a regional hub.

3. Market access for EU service providers

Although Vietnam’s WTO commitments are used as a basis for the services commitments in the EVFTA, Vietnam has not only opened additional sub-sectors for EU service providers, but also made commitments deeper than those outlined in the WTO, offering the EU the best possible access to Vietnam’s market. Sub-sectors that are not committed under the WTO, but under which Vietnam has made commitments under EVFTA, include: Interdisciplinary Research & Development (R&D) services; nursing services, physiotherapists and para-medical personnel; packaging services; trade fairs and exhibitions services and building-cleaning services.

When these services reach international standards, Vietnam has a chance to export high-quality services, resulting in not only an increase in export value but also export efficiency, thus helping to improve the trade balance.

III. GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT

Vietnam has one of the highest ratios of public investment to GDP in the world (39 percent annually from 1995). However, until now, Vietnam has not agreed to its Government procurement being covered by the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) of the WTO. Now, for the first time, Vietnam has undertaken to do so in the EVFTA.

The EVFTA commitments on Government procurement mainly deal with the requirement to treat EU bidders, or domestic bidders with EU investment capital, equally with Vietnamese bidders when the Government purchases goods or requests a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to follow the general principles of National Treatment and Non-discrimination. It will publish information on intended procurement and post-award information in Bao Dau Thau – Public Procurement Newspaper – and information on the procurement system at muasamcong.mpi.gov.vn and the official gazette in a timely manner. It will also allow sufficient time for suppliers to prepare and submit requests for participation and responsive tenders and maintain the confidentiality of tenders. The EVFTA also requires its Parties to assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation and create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes. These rules require Parties to ensure that their bidding procedures match the commitments and protect their own interests, thus helping Vietnam to solve its problem of bids being won by cheap but low-quality service providers.

Government procurement of goods or services, or any combination thereof, that satisfy the following criteria falls within the scope of the EVFTA Government Procurement rules:

Criteria – EVFTA

IV. INVESTMENT DISPUTE SETTLEMENT

Investment disputes now could be settled under the EVIPA. In disputes regarding investment (for example, expropriation without compensation or discrimination of investment), an investor is allowed to bring the dispute to the Investment Tribunal for settlement. To ensure the fairness and independence of the dispute settlement, a permanent Tribunal will be comprised of 9 members: 3 nationals each appointed from the EU and Vietnam, together with 3 nationals appointed from third countries. Cases will be heard by a 3-member Tribunal selected by the Chairman of the Tribunal in a random way. This is also to ensure consistent rulings in similar cases, thus making the dispute settlement more predictable. The EVIPA also allows a sole Tribunal member where the claimant is a small or medium-sized enterprise or the compensation of damaged claims is relatively low. This is a flexible approach considering that Vietnam is still a developing country.

In case either of the disputing parties disagrees with the decision of the Tribunal, it can appeal to the Appeal Tribunal. While this is different from the common arbitration proceeding, it is quite similar to the 2-level dispute settlement mechanism in the WTO (Panel and Appellate Body). We believe that this mechanism could save time and cost for the whole proceedings.

The final settlement is binding and enforceable from the local courts regarding its validity, except for a five-year period following the entry into force of the EVIPA (please refer to further comments in the Legal Sector Committee’s chapter on Judicial Recourse).

V. CONCLUSION

The EVFTA and EVIPA, once ratified by Vietnam, will create sustainable growth, mutual benefits in several sectors and be an effective tool to balance trade relations between the EU and Vietnam. Vietnam is making continuous efforts and progress to meet the high standards set out in the two FTAs and is currently offering greater opportunities for foreign businesses in preparation for the FTAs’ finalisation. It is now time for foreign investors to start their business plans and grasp the upcoming clear opportunities.

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Please do not hesitate to contact the author Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.
Thank you!

Solar FIT 2 finally announced in Vietnam but strict timeline remains

Vietnam’s Prime Minister has finally issued a decision on new FITs for solar power projects. The Decision formalizes amounts many had been expecting based on previously circulated draft information but comes nearly a year after the previous FIT rate expired (June 2019) and will leave many wondering why the decision couldn’t have been made much sooner.

Decision 13/2020/QD-TTg dated 6 April 2020 confirms that the new FITs will only be available – for now at least – for projects that COD prior to 31 December 2020.   This is a ridiculously short time line considering the long lead in time for delivery of inverters and, for many projects, completing land acquisition procedures.

The new FITs are:

  • For floating solar energy projects: 7.69 US cents/ kWh
  • For ground mounted solar energy projects: 7.09 US cents/ kWh
  • For rooftop energy solar energy projects: 8.38 US cents/ kWh

While providing welcome certainty, the long delay has seriously stressed many approved and licensed solar projects.   Investors and developers had been left in the dark about what revenue they would receive while simultaneously under pressure to meet construction deadlines stated in investment approvals and PPAs.

On the positive side, the Decision confirms that projects that are eligible for the new FITs are those that obtained Decisions on investment policy prior to 23 November 2019. This throws a wider net than previously-floated criteria that projects would have to have already started construction by that date. Practically speaking however, given the tight COD deadline, it will not dramatically affect the number of projects that have a realistic shot at securing the new FIT. Project owners need to make a very calculated decision now about how hard and fast to push ahead for COD by end of the year. Among myriad factors that could threaten such a target – including COVID-19 supply chain issues – must be EVN’s capacity to integrate and connect a potential flood of projects before the deadline.

The alternative, according to the new Decision, is that project owners will need to participate in competitive auctions. Though, also coming into view now, is a new corporate direct power purchase pilot program that will be an attractive option for many developers, albeit initially limited in scope. Read some more about that scheme here.

Notably, the new Decision does not suggest that any improvements will be made to the template solar power PPA, a form widely considered unbankable for international banks. Surely however the days must be numbered for this form if the Government wants to see sound future development of solar power, not to mention lower prices, in future.

With respect to rooftop solar projects, the Decision does not – as many had hoped – increase the existing 1 MW limit (which is not a true limit per se but rather a threshold for dramatically simpler licensing). Many had advocated to increase this to 3MW but not to be.

The Decision does however expressly recognize the concept of private rooftop power sales, something previously not clearly regulated. On that point, the Decision provinces that if EVN is not the power buyer, the parties can agree on their own PPA terms, provided they are consistent with existing regulations. This will be welcome news for rooftop developers who have been currently operating in something of a grey area, often using unconventional contractual arrangements. Further detailed regulation may come from the MOIT to further elaborate this.

For more information about Vietnam’s energy sector, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or any of the lawyers in our office listing. Giles is Chairman of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, branch director of Duane Morris’ HCMC office and Asia lead for Duane Morris’ Energy Industry Group.

VIETNAM – SOLAR POWER – NEW FEED IN TARIFFS – NEW GUIDANCE FOR SOLAR ENERGY DEVELOPMENT – WHAT YOU MUST KNOW:

It has been 10 month waiting after Decision 11/QDD-TTg expired, now the Prime Minister has issued Decision 13/2020 on the incentive mechanism for solar power development. We would like to update the very new key issues as follows:

1. FIT scheme

Following notification No. 402/TB-VPCP of Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, now FIT scheme is confirmed that it only applies for the following projects:

– For grid-connected projects: the projects that: (i) has in-principle investment decision before 23/11/2019, and (ii) COD of the whole or part(s) of project from 01/7/2019 to 31/12/2020.
– For grid-connected projects in Ninh Thuan: (i) the projects that were included into power development plans, (ii) COD before 01/01/2021, and (iii) the accumulated capacity not exceeding 2,000 MW.
It is noted that regarding grid-connected projects, FIT scheme is only applied for projects with solar cell’s capacity more than 16% or module more than 15%.

– For rooftop projects: the projects that are brought into operation, generate electricity and have electricity meter readings confirmed from 01/7/2019 to 31/12/2020.
The term of FIT scheme for the above projects shall be applied for 20 years from COD.

2. FIT2

FIT2 are as follows:
– Floating solar energy projects: UScent 7.69
– Ground mounted solar energy projects: UScent 7.09
– Rooftop energy solar energy projects: UScent 8.38

For Ninh Thuan province, grid-connected solar power projects that (ii) COD before 01/01/2021, and (iii) the accumulated capacity not exceeding 2,000 MW will be applied the FiT of UScent 9.35.

3. Competitive mechanism

The projects that do not fall with the scope of FIT scheme shall be subject to competitive scheme.

4. COD definition

COD of the whole or part(s) of the grid-connected project is defined as the date that the whole or part(s) of the project is ready to sell electricity to the buyer and satisfy the follows:
a) Has finished the initial tests for the whole or part(s) of the construction;
b) Has been issued electricity operation license;
c) Has agreed to the index of the electricity meter in order to make payment.

5. Rooftop project definition

Rooftop projects are the projects have photovoltaic panels installed on the rooftop of the construction and have the capacity not exceeds 01 MW, connect to the grids which is less than 35kV.

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Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

COVID-19 Guidance for Businesses in Vietnam: New Social Distance Policies, Lockdown or not?

Vietnam has taken further concrete steps to combat the COVID-19 crisis as the fight enters a new stage. Some uncertainty remains however as to how the steps are intended to be implemented in practice.

On 31 March 2020, the Prime Minister of Vietnam issued Directive No. 16/CT-TTg on the Implementation of Immediate Measures for the Prevention of the COVID-19 pandemic (“Directive 16“).  Primarily, Directive 16 sets forth strict social distancing on a nationwide basis for 15 days starting 1 April 2020.

Specifically, the mandates set out in the Directive include:

  • Everyone is required to stay at home, except for essential trips such as buying food, medicine, for emergency circumstances, going to work at factories and businesses that do not close or suspend their operations;
  • A minimum distance of two meters is required for meetings;
  • Gatherings of more than two people are prohibited in all public places, except for workplaces, schools, and hospitals;
  • Factories and workshops are required to ensure a safe distance among employees, facemasks must be worn, and workplaces must be sterilized according to regulations;
  • All State agencies are required to implement work-from-home policy for their staff members, except for special needs;
  • Public transportation services will be suspended and travel from region to region will be minimized, except for essential goods and services; and
  • Border crossings between Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos will be temporarily closed from 1 April 2020.  Immigration will be tightly controlled at all international border crossings; all those entering from Cambodia and Laos will be quarantined in central facilities for 14 days.

Directive 16 implies, without actually stating expressly, that operation of non-essential businesses must be suspended.  However, Mr. Mai Tien Dung, Minister and Chairman of the Government Office, later clarified in an interview that the new social distancing rules are not a lockdown as in other affected countries. The message appears to be that management of businesses may make their own decisions as to whether to remain open or not. At the same time, they must be responsible for ensuring their employee’s health and safety if they choose to continue to operate. In fact, this is the status quo as employers must always bear such responsibility under workplace legislation including the Law on Occupational Hygiene and Safety. Employees who consider themselves at risk by being at the workplace have a right to refuse to work and must be paid for any ensuing absence.

Anecdotally, we have heard of police officials visiting businesses and asking them to close. Some have interpreted this as mandatory, others are being given a less clear message.

Bottom line, at the present time there are differences around the country in how Directive 16 and companies can expect local officials to provide guidance on what it means in practice for them. For example, to implement the Prime Minister’s Directive, the Hanoi City People’s Committee issued Directive 05 / CT-UBND. That Directive states that factories, production facilities, and construction sites must facilitate for officials, employees and workers to work at home (how this is intended to work for construction sites is anyone’s guess).

It goes on to say that the following factories and enterprises may continue to operate:

  • Those producing and trading in essential goods such as: processing food, fruits, pharmaceuticals, medicines, medical supplies and equipment in service of epidemic prevention and combat, national security and defense;
  • Electricity, water and sanitation services;
  • Farms breeding cattle, poultry, aquaculture;
  • Clean water supply plants;
  • Garment factories producing medical masks;
  • Plant producing bottled water, juice; and
  • Factories needing to produce orders to be paid pursuant to contracts signed before April 15, 2020.

The Hanoi PC has also identified a rather wide list of businesses that are allowed to stay open including supermarkets, banks, tourist accommodation, shopping malls, television stations, healthcare services, grocery stores, funeral homes among others.

Business owners in other locations should look out for further direction from their provincial authorities as to how Directive 16 will be applied in practice. In all cases, businesses should be pro-actively developing policies, if not already , to prepare for the prospect of heavier-handed lockdowns including, where feasible, clear work from home protocols.

For more information, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or Dang Ngoc Huyen at HDang@@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.

COVID-19 Guidance for Employers in Vietnam: MOLISA’S Proposals for Handling Distressed Employment Arrangements

Recent guidance from Vietnam’s labor authorities provide some welcome clarity about how employers can act in these unique times and simultaneously underline that normal labor laws still apply. Employers who act in breach of the law are at risk.

The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (“MOLISA”) has just released Official Letter No. 1064/LDTBXH-QHLDTL (“OL 1064”) dated 25 March 2020 to provide guidance on employment arrangements for enterprises affected by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.  As follow up, the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (“DOLISA”) issued Official Letter No. 9403/SLDTBXH-LD (“OL 9403”) dated 27 March 2020 to provided further guidance for enterprises located in Ho Chi Minh City.

Primarily, OL 1064 and OL 9403 provide examples of cases where employees formally pause work for a specific period as a direct result of epidemic following negotiation and agreement with their employers on reduction of contractual salary (such amount not to be lower than the applicable regional minimum wage) pursuant to Article 98.3 of the Labor Code 2012, namely:

  • expat employees who are not allowed to enter Vietnam to return to work during the pandemic due to the entry ban;
  • employees who are subject to mandatory quarantine orders; and
  • the enterprise and/or any of its functional departments are unable to operate once situations (i) and/or (ii) above occur.

The examples provided are for illustrative/ reference purposes only and do not create any new law or provide any new legal basis for specific activity. Thus, it remains our view that, from a strictly legal basis at least, employers have discretion to choose whether to temporarily pause their operations. We have written about this in this earlier blog post.

Having said that, the guidance from MOLISA and DOLISA offers a number of lawful options for employers to handle employment arrangements during the Covid-19 epidemic starting from the most employee-friendly option down (see table below). Implicit in this is that the authorities are encouraging employers to prioritize alternatives that will maintain employment to the maximum extent possible.

OPTION DESCRIPTION OUR COMMENTS
Option 1 – temporary job transfer In case the Employer faces difficulties regarding materials supply or markets, causing redundancy, employers may temporarily transfer employees to perform work that is different than that agreed in the labor contract (Article 31 of Labor Code 2012). By this option, the salary should remain same for the first 30 days of the temporary job transfer period. After that, the salary for the new position can be 85% of the contractual salary. Also, we further note that if the temporary job transfer is longer than 60 days per year, employee consent would be required.
Option 2 – work pause The employer and employee discuss about payment of a reduced salary, not to be lower than the applicable regional minimum wage (with no work duties to be performed) for a specific period (Article 98.3 of Labor Code 2012).

 

This enables the employment relationship to be maintained but requires the affected employees’ consent to the reduced salary.

 

As noted in our earlier blog post, employees may be motivated to agree on salary reductions (i.e. – accept employers’ proposals) because, if they do not, the employer would have legal grounds to unilaterally terminate employment as a result of epidemic (subject to the generally-applicable 30 and 45-day advance notice requirement for definite and indefinite-term labor contracts respectively).

 

Option 3 – temporary delay of labor contract implementation

 

In case the work pause period under Option 2 lasts a long time and affects the employer’s ability to pay salaries, the employer and employee may agree to temporarily delay implementation of the labor contract according to Article 32 of Labor Code 2012. For practical purposes, this amounts to an agreement on unpaid leave. The employment relationship is maintained though no work is performed.
Option 4 – employment termination In case the enterprise must scale down its production causing redundancy, the employer may

conduct procedures in the law to:

 

(i) unilaterally terminate employment (Article 38 of Labor Code 2012); or

 

(ii)  Implement formal redundancy/ retrenchment (Article 44 of Labor Code 2012).

 

 

– With respect to the first option here (Article 38), we note that careful attention is required in order to utilize the employer’s right to unilaterally terminate a labor contract as it requires the employer to “take all measures” to overcome the consequences but “fail to maintain the existing operations”, and must follow a prescriptive notice period depending on their contract type (i.e., 30 and 45 days for definite and indefinite term labor contracts respectively). Also important, by going through OL 1064, it seems to us that MOLISA’s guidance is trying to narrow down the employer’s right by law to unilaterally terminate the labor contract. Specifically, OL 1064 mainly focuses on difficulties caused by material supplies and market issues within production industries and does not clearly refer to or consider service enterprises. Therefore, in the perfect world, it is highly recommended that employers under all circumstances, should seek to agree mutual termination agreement (MTA) or a resignation letter (RL) from the employees to effect termination. This is very valuable to avoid claims of wrongful unilateral termination at a later stage (potentially up to 12 months in the future).

 

– With respect to the second option here (Article 44), the employer would need to prepare a so-called labor usage plan, then consult the opinion of the relevant trade union and inform the relevant labor authorities about the same at least 30 days prior to implementing the labor usage plan re retrenchment. Again, though the law does not require employee consent if such procedures are followed, an MTA or an RL may short cut the time and procedural steps and be the preferred approach for both parties.

 

All in all, while the MOLISA and DOLISA guidance is a useful reference point for employers struggling to mitigate the impact of the COVId-19 crisis, and outlines a laudable policy preference in favor of maintaining employment relationships, it does not directly impact employers’ legal rights and options. That is, it is not mandatory to implement the steps in the order proposed by the authorities.

On the other hand, this is clearly not a green light to act contrary to law and the default position of complex procedural steps and notice periods involved in unilateral termination and retrenchment remains intact. When the dust settles, employers who flout the law may find themselves held to account.

For more information, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or Le Nhan at NTLe@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.

COVID-19 Guidance for Employers in Vietnam: CANs and CAN’Ts

Employers the world over are facing unprecedented issues brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Vietnam employers are no different. They need to be able to both respond rapidly and decisively to actual facts and formal and information government direction as it arises and simultaneously comply with legal obligations set out in law and statute. What trumps what?

An earlier blog post addressed specific remuneration issues under Vietnam law (see: here). That is a topic that will be further addressed as this crisis continues to unfold globally. This post covers some additional ad-hoc issues that we have seen come up for employers in Vietnam.

As ever, these topics are subject to change, potentially very suddenly, but we’ve attempted to set out the current position in law and practice. Please get in touch for more information.

Topic 1: Right to disclose an employee’s COVID-19 status to other colleagues

Strictly speaking, this information is deemed by law to be ‘confidential medical information’ of the employee, meaning that an employer is NOT permitted to disclose the fact of an employee’s sickness to others in the absence of the relevant employee’s express consent. An employer could disclose generally that an employee has tested positive for COVID-19 without identifying the specific individual affected.

On the other hand, taking into account the wider public health imperative and the positive obligation of all infected individuals to isolate and identify individual contacts for checks (Art. 3.2.1 of Guidance on medical quarantine in term of Covid-19, under Ministry of Health’s Decision No. 904/QĐ-BYT dated 16 March 2020) plus the positive obligation on employers to disclose the positive case (noting that failure to disclose the positive case of disease is strictly prohibited under Article 8.3 of The Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases) it can reasonably be concluded that, even without express consent, employers must provide other employees and the authorities with identifying information of affected employees that they have knowledge of in order to meet wider obligations.

In other words, this is one area where it seems likely that wider public health concerns and obligations trump individual personal privacy regulations. Having said that, employers are advised to proceed in a way so as to limit, to the extent possible, the scope of privacy breaches. The practical ability to do this will vary from case to case but may includes: (i) making at least a reasonable effort to obtain prior express consent from affected employees; and (ii) disclosing the information to as small a circle of people as reasonably possible in order to address public health obligations; and (iii) ensuring that language used is as neutral as possible and does not stigmatize the individual or overly-dramatize the situation.

On the first point, employers would be well-advised to pro-actively prepare specific consent forms that can be rolled out at short notice in a bid to obtain express consent on an as-needed basis.

Topic 2: Right to require employees to work from home

Theoretically speaking, any change to an employee’s workplace as recorded in their labor contract must comply with the terms of the relevant contract or be subject to express prior consent of the employee concerned.   Despite this, in the current situation, we are of the view that employers are able to require employees to work from home regardless of the foregoing, should the employer determine that such change of location is necessary to protect health and/or to comply with orders or requests of competent authorities.

In doing so, the employer would be entitled to expect the employee to continue to discharge regular duties and working hours. Reality does however dictate that this may be difficult in practice for the employer to control and/or the employee to achieve. The employee would have a reasonably expectation of being provided necessary means to discharge duties (such as computer).

We are also of the view that employers could mandate this on the basis of implementing plans under the Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases. Again, it would be important that the plan be properly prepared and informed to employees.

It remains arguable what rights employees may have to insist on working from home where the employer reasonably considers it unnecessary for public health purposes and in the absence of any positive requirement from authorities to order work-from-home arrangements where possible.

Topic 3: Right to screen employees’ and visitors’ temperatures

The Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases 2007 generally recognizes enterprises’ rights to prepare and implement plans to prevent and control infectious diseases on a case-to-case basis.

In our view, this would provide a basis for employers to insist on temperature screening for employees and visitors entering the workplace. In fact, this is widely accepted practice by most, if not all, State authorities and State-owned enterprises in Vietnam and many private businesses as well.

It would however always be preferable to have an actual written policy that outlines the reason by reference to the Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases and procedures to implement including how to act in the case of temperatures considered to be high.

Topic 4: Right to report in case of employee’s abnormal symptoms

In principle, an employee is obliged to comply with their employer’s internal policies on labor safety and hygiene at the workplace. Specifically, one of these obligations is to report any potential risk where dangerous and hazardous factor might appear at workplace (Art. 18, Law on labor safety and hygiene 2015). Concurrently, employers are entitled to be aware of all health-related risks at the workplace and have a responsibility to keep employees and relevant authorities updated on same (Art.23.4, Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases 2007).

Therefore, it is allowable for employers to report to competent authorities and/or to update its internal management personnel in case an employee has abnormal symptoms, including without limitation to the employee’s temperature which is abnormal.

Topic 5: Right to collect employees’ personal travel information and obligation to declare same to authorities

Vietnamese law is silent on this topic. As a matter of practice, those who have recently visited/ passed through territories considered as pandemic regions (e.g., the US, European countries, China, Iran, etc.) and those suspected of suffering from Corona virus are required by the government to undergo a compulsory 14-day centralized quarantine. In addition, individuals who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 (known as ‘F0’ individuals) are also subject to such mandatory centralized isolation/ self-isolation, depending whether they are determined as F1, F2, F3, F4 or F5 individuals respectively.

Following this, it is reasonable to conclude that employers are entitled to seek and be made aware of such information with a view to best protecting all their employees and reporting same to the competent authorities where necessary.

For more information, please contact Giles at GTCooper@duanemorris.com or Le Nhan at NTLe@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.