Tag Archives: CPTPP

VIETNAM – INFRASTRUCTURE CRITERIA FOR SUSTAINABLE INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT AND RAPID GROWTH – HOW THE CPTPP AND THE EUVN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT AND INVESTMENT PROTECTION AGREEMENT CAN CONTRIBUTE

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.[1] To put that in perspective, Vietnam’s GDP is growing at almost twice the rate of the USA. As a developing market, that growth cannot be maintained without sustainable infrastructure. To meet that demand, Vietnam needs to increase its energy capacity alone by 6,000-7,000 MW annually and spend close to US $148 billion on it by 2030.[2] Overall, it is projected that Vietnam will require US $605 billion in infrastructure spending by 2040.[3] The Vietnamese government has expressed that foreign-direct investment (FDI) is the key to meeting this demand as it lacks the fiscal capacity to meet financing requirements for large infrastructure projects on its own. Demand for transportation assets will be high due to a rapidly growing middle class, increasing urbanization, and increased international trade. Rail, road, and seaports will be critical to that sustainment. The recent trade agreements of CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership) and EVFTA/IPA (European-Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement / Investment Protection Agreement) are two new vehicles that will help Vietnam achieve a sustainable infrastructure.

CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA Direct, and Indirect, Effects on Infrastructure

CPTPP officially came into force on 30 December 2018 between Vietnam (January 2019) and Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, and New Zealand when those seven countries ratified the agreement. The most significant impact CPTPP (and EVFTA) has on Vietnam is the elimination of most tariffs on goods, national treatment of goods and services, and relaxed requirements of cross-border trade of services.[4] Before CPTPP came into force, Japan entered into a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) agreement with Vietnam to help build a light-rail and subway system in Ho Chi Minh City at an estimated US $740 million in 2007 dollars.[5] That project has had its fiscal problems since beginning in 2012; most notably the delay from opening in 2017 to now possibly 2020 (still not determined).[6] The regulatory environment when originally entered into was not the most efficient as the legal system mired-down the contractor in procedural issues and payments to them fell dramatically behind. If that PPP agreement had been negotiated under the CPTPP, costs would have been significantly less as tariffs on materials would have been eliminated or reduced, cross-border engineering services would have national treatment, and the [PPP] and investment protection chapters[7] would have streamlined the project to make it more fiscally manageable. It is likely Ho Chi Minh City would have its first light-rail commuter line operational today if that project had been governed under CPTPP.

Indirectly, Vietnam’s seaport infrastructure is benefitting from both CPTPP and the recently in-force EVFTA/IPA. While not a party to either of those agreements, South Korea [Korea] does have its own free trade agreement with Vietnam. Knowing that the enormous markets of both Oceania (not including USA) and Europe are now—in essence—dramatically opened for Vietnam, Korea is looking to invest heavily into the port system of Haiphong—Lach Huyen in northern Vietnam.[8] By having Lach Huyen as a deep sea port, it will enable direct exports from northern Vietnam to [Canada] and European markets without transit through ports in Singapore and Hong Kong[9]–significantly reducing costs associated with that. Japan initially entered into a PPP with Vietnam for the port in 2013, but since CPTPP coming into force, the project is receiving significant investment from other countries, with Korea eyeing-it extensively to support their economic triangle of Hanoi – Haiphong – Quang Ninh.[10]

How, Specifically, CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA Can Enable Further Infrastructure Development

Since Vietnam’s entry into the WTO in 2007, they have been struggling with practically adapting to the regulatory compliance issues that entailed. More and more, however, Vietnam has been operating in that new global paradigm and they are reaping the benefits. With their emergence as one of the most dominating economic forces in ASEAN comes critical infrastructure needs to support it. The one condition that must be met is the life-cycle sustainability of the project. That includes from the negotiation through development and operation until replacement. Major projects of this nature take time, skill, and experience; however, the regulatory environment supports and underpins the entire system. We have touched on how the recent agreements have had a broad effect (or could have had an effect) on foreign-direct investment into infrastructure, but how can specific provisions of the agreements immediately help attract FDI?

1. Investment Protection

The biggest hindrance to FDI in the past has been the level of investment protection and risk allocation. According to the CPTPP, investments are not only the traditional financial ones, but also an enterprise, intellectual property rights, and licences, authorisations, and permits, as well as other tangible or intangible, movable or immovable property, and related property rights, such as leases, mortgages, liens and pledges.[11] This is a remarkable concession by Vietnam considering their land-use laws relating to real property. Under Article 9.4, foreign-investors are now treated on the same footing as domestic investors. In addition, CPTPP calls for application of international law standards which can provide a hesitant investor a degree of certainty that their investment is protected.

The EVFTA/IPA is very similar in construction to the CPTPP. Both sides have pledged national treatment and most favoured nation treatment to investors of the other side, as well as fair and satisfactory treatment, safe and full protection. Both sides will allow the free movement of capital and profit abroad, pledging not to expropriate or nationalize investors’ assets without appropriate compensation.[12] Furthermore, they pledge to compensate the losses of the other side’s investors in the same way as domestic investors.

This is a dramatic shift for Vietnam and practical implementation of the recent agreements will take time and a learning-curve. However, once this major hurdle has been overcome and CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA become the new-norm, investors will be significantly more apt to engage in large, long term projects in Vietnam.

2. Tariff Elimination and Cross-Border Trade of Services

Right behind investment protection as a major incentive for investors is the dramatic elimination of tariffs and lessened restrictions on cross-border trade of services by and for Vietnam. The CPTPP’s broad tariff cuts on roughly 90% of items upon entry into force, and nearly all others within 10 years, will have an immediate impact on the relative competition. US exporters will now be disadvantaged in Vietnam to competitors in Canada, Japan, Australia, and other CPTPP member countries. The lessening of restrictions for cross-border services also has an immediate impact with regards to infrastructure as now engineering and construction services no longer have to have to comply with the formerly cumbersome registration process[13], they can freely open branch offices, and they can enter into joint ventures with domestic entities (subject to certain ownership limits in specified industries).[14]

The EVFTA/IPA mirrors the CPTPP in most respects, but now the entire economic engine of the EU has very limited barriers to entry into Vietnam. At entry into force, Vietnam commits to removing 48.5% of import tariffs on goods from the EU[15], or 64.5% of the EU’s export turnover, and that figure will be increased to 91.8% seven years later.[16] Outside of the tariff reductions and general lessening of restrictions on cross-border trade of services, probably one of the more significant aspects of EVFTA is the almost complete elimination of “local content” requirements for services.[17] For EU member countries, now they no longer will have to show that a certain percentage of their business is owned, operated by, or utilizes Vietnamese nationals. This may appear a cursory issue, but it is one that has traditionally been an administrative roadblock to many EU investors in the past.

The EVFTA goes one-step further than CPTPP with regards to infrastructure in that it has specific chapters that address both “trade and sustainable development” and “…investment in renewable energy generation”.[18] In those chapters, the parties “affirm their commitment to pursue sustainable development, which consists of economic development, social development and environmental protection”,[19] as well as to promote, develop and increase the generation of energy from renewable and sustainable sources, particularly through facilitating trade and investment.[20] This is a landmark agreement for Vietnam in that it is the first time they have—from an infrastructure perspective—committed to doing everything possible to eliminate barriers, both technical and non-technical, for sustainable development. Another hurdle has been overcome to attracting the EU’s expertise and hardware in roads, rail, and renewable energy.

All of this provides a regulatory landscape for infrastructure investment to flourish at a greatly reduced cost and administrative burden to both the investor, and to Vietnam. The framework is in place, now Vietnam needs to tailor their laws and regulations to match and support both the CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA.

3. Dispute Resolution, PPP

An often overlooked but critical aspect from the investor’s perspective has been the dispute resolution process before these trade agreements were in-force. Generally speaking, before CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA, most foreign investors only had the Vietnamese courts to address any dispute. This was a detriment to FDI as well as a significant additional expense.

Under the CPTPP, dispute settlement calls for both parties to resolve the matter between themselves first. If that fails, then the parties can choose alternative dispute resolution processes that are at a neutral venue with an impartial third panellist as chair[21]; however, if the parties cannot decide on a neutral forum, the complaining Party may select the forum.[22] Chapter 15 of the EVFTA provides the structure for dispute settlement and also calls for the parties to mutually reconcile before seeking any alternative dispute resolution mechanism. The procedures for an arbitration panel are essentially the same as the CPTPP except that under EVFTA, “If the Parties do not agree on the venue of the hearing, it shall be held in Brussels if the complaining Party is Viet Nam and in Ha Noi if the complaining Party is the Union”.[23] Chapter 3 of the EVIPA (dispute settlement) is a mirror of the EVFTA.
Why is this worth mentioning as one of the keys to successful infrastructure development? Most infrastructure projects are large-scale, cost-intensive, and long-term. Large, developed economies from the CPTPP and EU member nations have significant resources and experience that can benefit Vietnam in that respect; however, they want to protect their investment. The dispute settlement provisions of these new trade agreements are the vehicle that foreign investors have been waiting for—that added guarantee of prudent safety and protection for their millions upon millions of USD investment.

Most infrastructure investment has been through PPP agreements. PPP is the cornerstone for infrastructure development and has been utilized in the past in Vietnam with varying degrees of success. Those agreements were often legally cumbersome and were put together largely on faith that both the government and investor would live up to their end of the agreement. Unless otherwise specified in the contract (and sometimes even if it was) if a dispute arose the investor would have no recourse other than the Vietnamese courts. With the advent of CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA, now the regulatory environment has shifted towards favorable conditions for PPP to become a bedrock of Vietnam’s development if they incorporate those dispute settlement provisions into their PPP laws. Vietnam has recently put forth a new draft law on PPP with input from the private sector, and it is on the legislative docket for 2020. We will have to wait and see what the final product becomes, but with international arbitration now the standard, investors are more likely to consider long-term projects.

Summary

Vietnam is on the cusp of something very special, on the verge of becoming a solidly middle-class nation and regional economic powerhouse for the next generation. They will need quality infrastructure to support that—in the neighborhood of US $605 billion by 2040. Vietnam has set itself up for success, broadly, by entering into two of the most aggressive trade agreements in recent times, the CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA. Many former hiccups to robust infrastructure development have been removed or addressed by those agreements, and Vietnam now needs to capitalize on that by tailoring their current regulations and laws to match. Regardless of the type of infrastructure (road, rail, seaport, energy, etc.), the criteria for investment remain the same—investment protection, risk allocation, elimination of technical and non-technical barriers to trade/investment, and a neutral dispute resolution process. The CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA address all those criteria, now Vietnam needs to embrace and internalize those agreements systemically to solidify the foundation propelling their explosive growth.

***
Please do not hesitate to contact Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com if you have any questions or want to know more details on the above. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.
Thank you!
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[1] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?locations=VN
[2] https://www.vietnam-briefing.com/news/vietnams-push-for-renewable-energy.html/
[3] https://outlook.gihub.org/countries/Vietnam
[4] CPTPP Chapters 2, 10; Annexes I, II. EVFTA Chapters 2, 8.
[5] Japan is a member country of CPTPP. CPTPP is not retro-active to 2012.
[6] https://e.vnexpress.net/news/news/japanese-contractor-may-stop-work-on-saigon-metro-line-3843148.html
[7] CPTPP Chapter 9 (investment); Chapters 21 and 23 (capacity building and development)
[8] http://www.hanoitimes.vn/investment/2019/03/81e0d434/south-korea-eyes-deep-sea-port-project-in-haiphong/
[9] Id. Footnote 8
[10] Id.
[11] CPTPP Chapter 9, Article 9.1
[12] EVIPA Chapter 1, Article 1.2; Chapter 2
[13] CPTPP Chapter 10; allows for recognition of professional certifications from any qualified body to administer such certifications. No longer will engineers, for example, be required to be certified by a Vietnamese body
[14] CPTPP Annex I; specified industries of national significance (which includes most infrastructure-related businesses) are restricted to between 49-51 percent foreign ownership
[15] EVFTA Annex 2, Appendix 2-A-2
[16] http://vietnamlawmagazine.vn/vietnam-eu-sign-free-trade-investment-protection-agreements-16756.html
[17] EVFTA Chapter 7; calls for the limitation of any local-content requirements, with exceptions for certain areas of national security or significance
[18] EVFTA Chapters 13 and 7
[19] EVFTA Chapter 13, Article 13.3.1
[20] EVFTA Chapter 7, Article 7.1
[21] CPTPP Chapter 28
[22] CPTPP Chapter 28, Article 28.4
[23] EVFTA Chapter 15, Article 15.3.8

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VIETNAM – CUSTOMS REFORM AND WTO TRADE FACILITATION AGREEMENT (“TFA”) – HOW CPTPP AND EVFTA CAN EFFECT CHANGE

Every day I ride a boat along the Saigon River between Districts 1 and 2 when I am in Ho Chi Minh City. Monday through Friday, it is full of container barges moving containers to and from major distribution points. Saturdays and Sundays, however, are basically void of such traffic. I wondered to myself “why?” With the amount of import/export volume funneling through this major artery to trade, how could the weekends shut-down the volume of traffic this much? After reading the law on customs and the various other regulations and laws concerning Vietnamese customs and procedures, it became clear that a substantial portion of customs clearing and private transportation services did not operate on weekends; and if they did, it was sporadic. It would seem logical to assume that since worldwide shipping did not stop transport vessels in the middle of the sea because it was the weekend that major backlogs would occur on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, hindering efficient clearance of goods. Mondays would be very intensive days for customs services and transportation.

The infrastructure for Vietnamese ports is growing and several large projects are already underway to accommodate the increased volume of shipping that is occurring.[1] Ports in Ho Chi Minh City are the main gateway for the region, accounting for 67 percent of the total throughput of all Vietnamese ports.[2] The enhanced infrastructure to absorb extensive increases to shipping volume is necessary and critical for Vietnam’s economic growth sustainability; however, it is the responsibility of customs to expeditiously accept and clear those goods for shipment to their destinations within Vietnam. Many developing (and, by the way, some developed) nations and economies have struggled with customs efficiencies for this new operational environment, and Vietnam is no different. The WTO TFA (Trade Facilitation Agreement; hereafter referred to as “TFA”) which entered into force 22 February 2017 was partly enabled to assist developing nations in streamlining their customs functions to facilitate a smoother, easier, trade process through a provision of assistance and support for capacity building for implementation of Section I [of the TFA].[3] Section I of the TFA includes Article 7 (Release and Clearance of Goods) and Article 9 (Movement of Goods Intended for Import Under Customs Control). How has Vietnam been addressing the concerns raised by these articles of the TFA and how do the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership; 2018) and EVFTA (European Union—Vietnam Free Trade; 2019) agreements add-to, or reduce, these concerns?

Article 7 of TFA

This Article provides standards for different factors that affect the release and clearance of goods such as expedited shipments, perishable goods, electronic payments, and pre-arrival processing. Article 7.3 calls for a separation of release of the imported goods from final determination of customs duties, taxes, fees, and charges. The article states that members shall allow importers to obtain release of their goods, under a guarantee, if required, prior to the final determination and payment of customs duties, taxes, fees and charges where the final determination is not done prior to, upon arrival or as rapidly as possible after arrival.[4] This is a wonderful measure for importers (to have their goods released with a very limited delay) and also for customs-efficiency as customs can receive legal guarantees of importers paying the final determination of any incurred fees at a later date. This can have the effect of rapidly clearing goods from customs intake/staging locations to create inventory space for more goods. Any reduction in delay of release of goods is a good thing, and according to a global trade report, full TFA delivery will help…”save 1.5 days of customs clearance for imported goods, down 47% from the present average and nearly 2 days of customs clearance for exported ones, down 91%.”[5] Vietnam’s logistics’ costs account for 16% to 17% currently [2018] of GDP, with 30-40 percent of that cost associated with custom’s clearances.[6]
In response to this concern—and under Article 7.3 of the TFA—Vietnam turned to CPTPP to address it. Under recently published Decree No. 57/2019/ND-CP (26 June 2019) governing Export/Import preferential tariffs under CPTPP, “…Within 1 year from the date of…export declarations, the customs declarant shall submit all documents proving that the goods satisfy the regulations specified…”[7] This mirrors the intent of TFA Article 7.3 and directly compliments it. Now, member states of CPTPP have increased flexibility in submitting any further documentation requested of Vietnam Customs instead of having those goods held and delayed for clearance until they were obtained. This is a great example of Vietnam aggressively pushing their regulatory changes forward to comply with TFA and CPTPP.

Article 9 of TFA

This article attempts to prevent bottleneck issues from occurring (mainly in developing or under-developed countries) at a customs port of entry by requiring member states to allow a customs-declarant to move goods from a customs port of entry to another customs office within the same customs territory (under customs control), and permit that declarant to clear them at the destination rather than at the port of entry. It is a straight-forward and fairly simple sounding statement; however, in practice, it is riddled with complexities.
Vietnam’s law on customs[8] delineates authority for customs responsibilities between 1) General Department of Customs; 2) Customs Departments of Provinces; and 3) Sub-department of Customs Sub-Departments, Customs control teams and equivalent units. Additionally, under Article 16 (5) of same, “The arrangement of manpower and working time must meet the requirements of import, export, exit, entry and transit activities.” Furthermore, Article 23 (4) requires, “Customs authorities…to carry out formalities for goods on public holidays and weekends and overtime hours in order to ensure timely loading and unloading of imported and exported goods…in conformity with practical conditions of customs operating locations [emphasis added]”. On paper, this would indicate a fully-developed system for expediting customs clearances and/or processes for clearing goods through a port of entry to another custom’s operations area for clearance seven days a week (and the customs law does further state that unless a shipment requires a physical inspection for certain agricultural or health reasons, it should be expedited to a different clearance location).

In application, it can vary greatly by whoever is the customs authority in charge of the inspection location. Decree 08/2015/ND-CP (Ministry of Finance) Article 29 (2) states, “Head of the Customs Authority who is in charge of…inspection [places] shall make a decision on any change to the level or form of physical verification and bear responsibility for their decision.” This gives the customs director of a facility broad authority, but thanks to the last clause of the sentence, “…bear responsibility for their decision”, many customs officials will be hesitant to use that discretion in fear of making a “wrong” decision; therefore, they most likely will physically hold and inspect every shipment coming into their zone of control. One facility operating in that fashion can bottleneck an entire section of the country. Additionally, the provincial customs authority or facility director has broad discretion in determining the “practical conditions” to conform to. In Vietnam, it is doubtful a customs facility director will require personnel to facilitate customs procedures during “Tet” (Vietnamese New Year); therefore, for one week little customs activity occurs at that location.

Indeed, many issues that are problematic to the law on customs were supposedly being addressed by Circulars 38 and 39 (issued in 2018). In fact, on 10 July 2019 a $21.7 million USAID Trade Facilitation Program was granted to support the Government of Vietnam to adopt and implement a risk management approach to customs and specialized inspection agencies, which will strengthen the implementation of the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement [TFA].[9] The General Department of Vietnam Customs (GDVC) organized six consultative workshops to gather feedback and recommendations on amending Circular 38 and Circular 39 – regulation guidance on Vietnam’s Customs Law. The workshops would help identify the challenges and practical compliance-burdens faced by import-export businesses in relation to implementation of the circulars.[10] It is evident that between the many iterations of decrees, circulars, directives, and laws regarding customs and procedures, every agency and business involved in the process is confused.

Decision 15 (12 May 2017) provides a clear example of the confusion customs officials and businesses encountered[11]; chiefly, that it did not specify what is considered the “entry gate” for carrying out customs procedures? Was it the place that goods were imported to, or the port listed on the bill of lading? Businesses (and officials) were receiving conflicting information and backlogs inevitably ensued.[12] Decision 23, recently issued 27 June 2019, addressed this issue and specifically identifies the proper port of entry for each type of transport.[13] CPTPP and EVFTA also affected Decision 23 in that it amended the type of goods requiring specific inspection procedures to comply with CPTPPs input-materials-for-production provision, and also EVFTAs (and CPTPPs) stricter requirements regarding potentially environmentally-hazardous materials.[14]

With the myriad regulations affecting customs, how can either the CPTPP or EVFTA assist Vietnam in resolving the predicament? Statutorily, the EVFTA already has. It mirrors portions of the TFA (such as creating trade facilitation committees), but also goes one step further in requiring Vietnam to comply with Article 2.12, in which Vietnam “…shall administer in a uniform, impartial and reasonable manner all its laws, regulations, judicial decisions and administrative rulings pertaining to…issues affecting…distribution, transportation…warehousing inspection…or other use of goods for customs purposes.” This section of the EVFTA is forcing Vietnam to take a hard look at their current system, and streamline and consolidate all their varying regulations concerning customs administration for efficiency. A quick solution Vietnam can implement now to help alleviate physical storage problems is EVFTA Article 2.15 which allows foreign pharmaceutical companies to establish their own warehouses inside Vietnam.[15] If Vietnam declares those warehouses as “customs operational locations”, that would free-up other customs warehousing space for other inventory.

Private Sector Must Be Engaged

Outside of the regulatory environment, private businesses have a crucial role in relieving bottlenecks. Even if everything flows smoothly and correctly through the government customs process and goods are cleared, it takes private businesses to physically move those goods out to make room for others. If the trucking company hired to move containers does not “work” on weekends, is short-staffed, can’t find anyone to work, drivers call out sick, etc., those containers do not move—they sit there. Many of the transport barges moving along the Saigon River are private contractors. You can see their entire family lives and works on that barge. If that barge does not want to work that day, it is not going to work. While most of the port terminal operations are conducted by State-owned enterprises (SOEs), they still struggle with general employment issues that affect port operations and add to the bottleneck issue as well.

Government can provide a statutory environment for success, but without private enterprise completing the circle, nothing will be resolved. Perhaps an incentive system for non-traditional work days for private contractors can help the situation; better screening of potential employees; requirements specifically spelled-out; any and all solutions need to be examined. The bottom-line is while regulatory efficiency is needed to allow for the legal and operational environment to flow seamlessly, the private sector must close the loop.

Summary

There is a regulatory quagmire surrounding Vietnam’s customs arena. The TFA is intended to assist developing and under-developed nations (primarily) with their trade processes to better facilitate trade on a global level so that all parties benefit. Vietnam’s growing economy and role as a Southeast-Asian trade hub are requiring substantial changes to current regulations and processes. Only a few examples of the many that could be given show that while Vietnam is making strides with reform, they need to accelerate that change. It cannot be haphazardly done, though. It must be structured, reasonable, and determined with both governmental and private sector collaboration. Vietnam followed that exact process for obtaining CPTPP and EVFTA. Those agreements should be the primary guiding documents for Vietnam to reform their customs legislation to, as they will affect Vietnam’s economic growth exponentially. They can provide the framework for statutory solutions to many of the customs issues Vietnam faces; however, without private-sector buy in, those statutory solutions cannot be efficiently implemented. The entire customs-cycle must be embedded into the mindset and carried out at the individual level for there to be a truly systemic change.

Please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com or any other lawyers 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 !

VIETNAM – PUBLIC-PRIVATE-PARTNERSHIPS (PPP) AND CPTPP AND EVFTA/IPA DISPUTE SETTLEMENT PROVISIONS AND THE DRAFT PPP LAW

Public-Private-Partnerships (PPP) have long been used as a vehicle for both emerging and developed markets to further enhance their public infrastructure to support growing socio-economic needs. Vietnam, however, has experienced an explosive economic growth over the past decade and is poised for even further expansion with their acceding to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and European Union—Vietnam Free Trade (EVFTA) agreements. With these two new growth mechanisms in-force, Vietnam’s infrastructure is struggling to accommodate that growth. The statutory cap on public funds utilization of 65 percent is rapidly approaching and the most viable investment form left for Vietnam is a functional PPP program.

Both CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA (Investment Protection Agreement) lay out very broad frameworks for supporting infrastructure development such as preferring renewable energy over environmentally-damaging alternatives and establishing development committees to determine how best to support that effort.[1] With the core of those agreements addressing elimination of almost all duties and tariffs on goods and services between the parties (over time), it makes the cost of acquiring hardware for energy infrastructure less. Additionally, the restrictions on cross-border trade in services required to construct and maintain technologically advanced platforms are lessened; further reducing the cost of an infrastructure project. Vu Tien Loc (president of Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce and Industry) speaking at an event “EVFTA and EVIPA: Opportunities for Business” held on July 1 by the Ministry of Industry and Trade, stated that EVFTA is the best FTA Vietnam has ever signed.[2] Vietnam is heading towards a foreign direct investment (FDI) generation, with higher quality, more advanced technologies, higher added value and a more eco-friendly environment, so the EVFTA will open the door for EU companies to complete these targets, Loc said.[3]

With these opportunities presented for Vietnam’s economic future, a draft law on PPP was drawn to address some of the concerns foreign investors have had regarding the regulatory environment for PPP in Vietnam. Mainly that there is not an appropriate level of risk allocation (too much on the investor), and there is not enough regulatory stability to support a long-term PPP project (generally 25-30 years). Many of the primary concerns have been discussed in other various articles; however, CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA have two restrictions reserved by Vietnam that can hinder the potential for expansive FDI in energy infrastructure (specifically power distribution)—CPTPP Annex IV and EVIPA Annex 2.1. Conversely, they also include dispute settlement provisions between member countries that can attract PPP investment if incorporated into the draft PPP law.

CPTPP Annex IV and EVIPA Annex 2.1

CPTPP Annex IV states, “[Regarding] all state-owned enterprises[4]…Viet Nam may require or direct the Entity [CPTPP member] to: (b) accord preferential treatment to…enterprises that are investments of Vietnamese investors in the territory of Viet Nam…pursuant to a government measure.” EVIPA Annex 2.1 states, “Viet Nam may adopt or maintain any measure with respect to the operation of a covered investment that is not in conformity with Article 2.3 (National Treatment); (h) …power transmission and/or distribution.” Both annexes allow Vietnam to require a potential member-country investor to use only Vietnamese domestic enterprises (majority-owned by Vietnamese nationals) in accomplishing the PPP project, if Vietnam so chooses. The EVIPA Annex is even broader than CPTPP by allowing “any measure” (regarding power transmission/distribution). It is also interesting to note that in EVFTA Appendix 8-B-1[5] (Specific commitments by Vietnam) Vietnam has agreed to virtually no restrictions on any construction companies or engineering services, including having a 100% member-country-owned commercial presence in Vietnam’s territory. In essence, CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA allow freer, fairer access to goods/services and investments; however, Vietnam can require any investor to utilize strictly Vietnamese resources regarding power or energy production and distribution. Most nations want to maintain national sovereignty and control of specific industries and resources they consider critical in supporting that sovereignty—that is not the issue here. This issue raised is one of regulatory uncertainties for investors.

These competing sections can cause consternation for a potential PPP investor. They may be able to complete the project for far less costs using their own member-country resources, but arbitrarily required at some point to utilize Vietnamese-owned companies that perhaps charge far more for the same good or service. The current draft PPP law is silent on this issue. PPP investors could be reassured, through contractual stability, of the guaranteed resources and services to be provided (and by whom) from the outset of the project. At a minimum, the draft PPP law should include a method for an investor to challenge a regulatory ruling or decision through an impartial, third party. While this issue might not derail a project, it could cause a qualified, reliable investor not to even want to bid a project; therefore, possibly driving the cost up or having a lower quality platform that will cost more in repair and maintenance in the long term. What the draft PPP law needs is to adopt the dispute settlement and resolution provisions of the CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA. In its current form, it does not mirror them.

Dispute Resolution Provision

Under Article 112 of the draft PPP law (dispute resolution) parties must use negotiation and conciliation first. This is the same as both CPTPP Chapter 28 and EVFTA Chapter 15/IPA Chapter 3. Continuing, a dispute involving a foreign investor (and between a State Agency) will be resolved through a Vietnamese arbitration organization or court, “unless otherwise agreed in the contract or unless otherwise stipulated in an international treaty of which Vietnam is a member.” If not stipulated in the contract, this means that if the foreign entity is a CPTPP or EUFTA/IPA member country, those agreements’ dispute chapters apply—maybe. Both agreements state that dispute resolution will be accomplished via mediation and arbitration for disputes generated under those agreements. There is no specific PPP language in the agreements; therefore, it will have to be proven that either of the agreements govern the project. This will add time and costs to the project, the government, the investor, and ultimately, the public.

Many PPP projects do not involve one, single foreign investor. There could be any number of various investor combinations to complete a specific project. A purely domestic, Vietnamese, single investor will be required to use Vietnamese arbitration or courts under Article 112—understandable. Any dispute between investors (state agency not involved) in which there is at least one (1) foreign investor will be resolved: “First, in Vietnamese court(s); then second, Vietnamese arbitrator(s); lastly, Foreign arbitrator(s).” Unless the foreign-investor here is a CPTPP/EVFTA member, or they have an international arbitration clause in their contract, there is no real option for the investor except for Vietnamese arbitration/courts.

The current draft PPP law’s Article 112 is more in line with general business transactions and not the magnitude of most PPP investments. They generally include multiple entities and financial vehicles/lenders, both foreign and domestic, ranging in the hundreds of millions to billions of USD. With the level of involvement regarding PPP projects, the draft PPP law should just state plainly that any dispute shall be resolved through international mediation and/or arbitration (unless stipulated otherwise in the contract). In effect, mirror the CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA Dispute Settlement Chapters. This will provide potential investors with the regulatory certainty they have been looking for. It will also alleviate any concerns around objectivity and neutrality for all parties. UNCITRAL stated in their UN guidelines for PPP in 2000, “…procedures should be established for handling disputes… (This is where arbitration should be a risk concession by the government…allowing international standards of the infrastructure sector to have an equal voice) [Emphasis added].”[6] Changing dispute resolution in the draft law to mirror the current trade agreements and UNCITRAL will help attract FDI for PPP infrastructure projects.

Summary

Vietnam needs to rely on the private sector to take their socio-economic growth to the next level. Government cannot satisfy the country’s requirements without it. Regulatory reform has been one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in satisfying the private sector’s concerns. From a statutory perspective, the CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA are able vehicles that give a wide berth for PPP projects to flourish. Within those landmark agreements, some conflicting areas do remain that can cause investor concern. From an operational perspective, government agencies need to streamline their processes to deliver services effectively under the laws and regulations (another major concern of investors). Eric Sidgwick, ADB country director for Vietnam, stated that Vietnam’s average disbursement rate is much lower than that of other recipients of the Asian Development Bank’s official development assistance (ODA) loans, largely due to cumbersome and time-consuming procedures.[7] While there is never a perfect solution for all parties, compromise is usually the most effective way to ensure buy-in from all involved. A way of alleviating investor’s concern over ambiguous and regulatory stability is to change the dispute resolution Article of the draft PPP law to mirror the already successful agreements of CPTPP and EVFTA/IPA.

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. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

THANK YOU!

VIETNAM – CAPITAL MARKETS – HOW THE CPTPP, EVFTA/IPA CAN EFFECT MORGAN STANLEY’s 2020 RATING

One of the significant events Vietnam was hoping to occur this June unfortunately did not transpire—being on the Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) watch list for emerging markets. Instead, Vietnam was not upgraded and remained on the frontier-market listing. It is estimated Vietnam could receive up to US $10 billion worth of foreign capital in frontier market-focused funds, but could receive much more from emerging market-focused funds.[1] The Vietnamese Government considers MSCI’s watch list as a top-priority target as it could lure a huge amount of foreign capital to the Vietnamese economy.[2] According to Nguyễn Thị Bích Nga, deputy director of the State Securities Commission’s International Co-operation Department, [Vietnam] has been making the best efforts to improve the legal framework, introduce new securities products and make the market more professional.[3]

One of those “best efforts” is the amendment of the securities law that would make the market fairer between domestic and foreign investors (draft law to amend law on securities; last revised by Decree 60/2015/ND-CP). That 2015 revision eased restrictions on Foreign Ownership Limits (FOL); however, MSCI wants to see even further progress on relaxing those restrictions. According to the draft version (as a general rule), foreign investors are allowed to own 100 per cent of the shares of a Vietnamese company that operates in a non-critical business sector. This applies to listed firms, equitized state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and private non-listed businesses. Shareholders of each company will decide for themselves the amount of foreign-owned shares eligible.[4] This is different from the current Securities Law, which automatically sets the FOL at listed companies in Vietnam at 49 percent. Some sectors, such as banking or aviation, have a stricter limit at only 30 percent.

Experts believe that with the relaxed rules, Vietnam would be likely to attract at least US $5 billion of new capital from abroad and receive the upgrade that it has been waiting for.[5] With fewer restrictions on foreign ownership, Vietnamese firms would become more attractive to major investment funds who are willing to pour millions of USD into Vietnamese businesses. With more foreign-ownership, companies will have a broader, global, perspective and a level of accountability to help drive transparency and change. Mai Le, analyst at PYN Asia Research, noted that out of all the changes in the Securities Law, the [capital] market is most anxiously waiting the FOL rule to take effect.[6]

MSCI Decision and Criteria

Kuwait was upgraded to the MSCI emerging market watch list (and not Vietnam) specifically because of, “…enhancements [that] removed foreign ownership restrictions on listed banks and simplification of requirements for investor registration.”[7] Not coincidentally, those are the areas that Vietnam has not satisfied under MSCIs criteria.[8] Under MSCIs criteria of “Openness to Foreign Ownership”, Vietnam ranks as improvement needed in FOL level, foreign room level, and equal rights to foreign investors. Many experts felt that Vietnam has met more standards of an emerging market than similar markets such as Pakistan and the Philippines (or Kuwait), but also had the best qualitative indicators among frontier markets.[9] While that may be true, it is apparent that MSCI is more concerned with long-term sustainability, which is why “openness to foreign ownership” is MSCIs top criteria for assessing upgrades.

CPTPP, EVFTA, EVIPA and Their Potential Effects on MSCI 2020

If Vietnam rectifies the discrepancies in their laws regarding investments and securities with the trade agreements of CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership), EVFTA (European Union—Vietnam Free Trade Agreement), and EVIPA (European Union—Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement), they will have a greater chance at making the MSCI watch list upgrade for 2020. Vietnam will most likely not make the list if they continue to table or endlessly debate these critical, progressive revisions. Streamlining the draft laws on investment and securities with CPTPP, EVFTA, and EVIPA, and implementing them expeditiously will give MSCI hard-data to use in their June 2020 evaluation instead of mere speculation.
Moving in that direction, one of the most significant changes in the draft law on securities is the expansion of the foreign holding cap in public companies. Accordingly, public companies would be subject to no restrictions on foreign holdings, unless otherwise prescribed by “treaties to which Vietnam has acceded or a specialized law.”[10] There is a minor legal distinction between “treaties” and “agreements”; however, in the spirt of the law and especially for cementing these new trading relationships, Vietnam should draw no distinction and apply them as such. Under the CPTPP and EVFTA/EVIPA, Vietnam has expressly restricted FOL in specific, listed industries that are of national significance or security[11]; therefore, the government should aggressively restructure their current drafts to mirror that CPTPP, EVFTA, and EVIPA specific language. The CPTPP does have FOL set to what the current Vietnamese law is (currently 30 percent); however, it only states that it is relative to whatever the “current” law is—so, change the law.

This would mean removing the 30 percent FOL cap in the banking industry that is currently in place (even in the draft law to revise the law on securities).[12] According to Long Ngo, associate director at the Research Department at Viet Capital Securities, investment trends in the banking industry will depend on when the government lifts the FOL.[13] As long as the government keeps FOL at the 30 percent level, Vietnam’s capital markets will not expand and MSCI will not consider Vietnam for the watch list upgrade.[14] By maintaining their current operational paradigm, Vietnam is only hampering its own development and future.

If Vietnam would internalize operating from a global perspective, there should be no distinctions between a foreign investor and a domestic one (other than protected industries of national security). CPTPP, EVFTA, and EVIFA create “National Treatment” of any foreign-investor, which grants (in effect) domestic status.[15] Article 9.1 of CPTPP stipulates all “covered” investments (EVIPA is essentially the same list), including: (a) an enterprise; (b) shares, stock and other forms of equity participation in an enterprise; (c) bonds, debentures, other debt instruments and loans;…(f) intellectual property rights; (g) licences, authorisations, permits and similar rights conferred.[16] If Vietnam would stipulate in their draft laws this position already agreed to in CPTPP, EVFTA and EVIPA, it would virtually eliminate all three of MSCIs concerns that it has with Vietnam currently.

With the guarantee of no distinction between a foreign-investor and a domestic one, entities that have been reluctant to invest millions of USD in Vietnamese businesses will now feel much more comfortable about the investment environment; thus creating a large influx into Vietnamese capital markets. MSCI will notice these changes and most likely add Vietnam to 2020s watch list for emerging markets, creating another large inlay to Vietnam’s markets. If the government would match their investment and securities laws with the current trade agreements of CPTPP, EVFTA, and EVIPA, they would realize their self-stated goal of achieving MSCI watch list for emerging-market status.

Summary

A major goal of Vietnam’s government was not realized in July. Despite strong economic activity and other positive indicators, MSCI did not place them on the highly anticipated watch list for emerging markets. If Vietnam takes a hard look at the criteria that kept them from the upgrade, it is apparent that the solution for most of the roadblocks cited have already been addressed in the CPTPP, EVFTA, and EVIPA. The government merely needs to incorporate the trade agreement language into their existing laws. The tabling until May 2020 of the passage of the draft law to amend the law on investments through Resolution 8 (July 2019) was not a strategically beneficial move for Vietnam in order to make the 2020 MSCI watch list. Several key provisions in that draft (if in-place and operational) would give MSCI concrete data to observe (rather than speculative) and improve Vietnam’s chances of an upgrade. Additionally, changes to the draft law on the law on securities to be in line with the provisions of CPTPP and EVIPA would also be in Vietnam’s favor. Investor’s (and MSCI) minds would be eased if Vietnam will aggressively pursue regulatory reform and potentially add another US $15 billion to their capital markets.

The best indicator that reform is required to the current draft laws on amending the law on securities and investments came from the government itself. “Some items are unclear while others are unreasonable and no longer fit the Vietnamese market’s conditions,” the Government said in a report submitted to the National Assembly’s Economic Committee.[17] Those issues may “befuddle investors, market members and regulators,” adding that “policymakers must adjust the law [emphasis added] so it matches international standards and agreements to which Vietnam is committed.”[18]

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!
________________________________________
[1] https://vietnamnews.vn/economy/520886/vn-hopes-to-enter-msci-watchlist-this-year-but-experts-are-uncertain.html#3jsO5FxXs7UjKbiz.97
[2] Id. Footnote 1.
[3] Id. Footnote 1.
[4] https://www.vir.com.vn/fol-ambiguities-in-new-securities-law-64118.html
[5] Id. Footnote 4.
[6] Id. Footnote 4.
[7]https://www.msci.com/documents/10199/238444/RESULTS_OF_MSCI_2019_ANNUAL_MARKET_CLASSIFICATION_REVIEW.pdf/f134c97c-73da-71c7-4b3c-d1f637c3eaee
[8]https://www.msci.com/documents/1296102/1330218/MSCI_Market_Accessibility_Review_Country_Comparison_2019.pdf/142b5a29-e385-2922-4f79-8d6f4a04a467
[9] Id. Footnote 4.
[10] http://vietnamlawmagazine.vn/draft-securities-law-proposes-expanding-foreign-holding-cap-6517.html
[11] EVIPA, Chapter 2, Article 2.1.2 ; Annex 2

VIETNAM—FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT AND UNINTENDED EFFECTS AND OPPORTUNITIES OF CPTPP/EVFTA

According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), in the first 5 months of 2019, foreign direct investment (FDI) projects were US $7.3 billion, up 7.8% as compared to the same period in 2018. In addition, FDI contribution to the state budget rose from US $1.8 billion during 1994-2000 to US $14.2 billion during 2001-10, and to US $23.7 billion during 2011-15. In 2017 alone, FDI contributed US $8 billion to the state budget, accounting for 17% of the total state budget.[1] Phan Huu Thang, Vice Chairman of Vietnam’s Association of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, told Vietnam Investment Review that hi-tech processing and manufacturing, smart agriculture, healthcare, education and training, and renewable energy will be the hottest sectors for FDI in the coming months and years.[2] All these numbers and projections sound fantastic, but there are always impediments to a flourishing FDI program, as well as untapped (or under-utilized) opportunities. More importantly, how can the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and European Union—Vietnam Free Trade (EVFTA) agreements foster and support FDI?

Two important draft laws affecting FDI originally slated for passage in July 2019 have, unfortunately, been postponed for passage until May 2020 per Resolution 78 (78/2019/QH14) in the Vietnam National Assembly: the Law on Investment in the Public Private Partnership Form [Law on PPP] and the Law Amending the Law on Investment and the Law on Enterprises.[3] There will be more to come on the effect of those laws after passage.

Unintended Effects of CPTPP and EVFTA on FDI

In the first five months of 2019, Vietnam’s FDI attraction reached a total value of US $16.7 billion, up 69 percent over the same period last year.[4] Currently, there are 131 countries and territories with valid investment projects in Vietnam, of which the Republic of Korea (RoK), Japan and Singapore claim the top three places (Japan and Singapore are CPTPP countries).[5] Since the beginning of 2019, however, a new top contender is emerging—China. In the past, China has been the seventh largest investor in Vietnam (with US $15 billion total); however, in the first half of 2019, their FDI alone was US $2 billion.[6] This is not a great surprise as the US—China “trade war” continues, but it does highlight that China is intending to exploit Vietnam’s entrance into the CPTPP and EVFTA (Agreements that China does not currently benefit from). This year, the Vietnamese government licensed the US $280 million ACTR tire-manufacturing project in the southern province of Tay Ninh, and a US $214.4 million project by the Advance Vietnam Tire Co., Ltd in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang.

ACTR manufactures steel-radial tires for trucks and busses, and is a joint venture between China’s Sailun Vietnam Co., Ltd, (with 65% equity) and the US’s Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. (35% equity). Because of the more stringent Certificate of Origin (COO) requirements under the CPTPP, China could no longer import tire components from CPTPP countries and process them domestically to obtain CPTPP member-country benefits (or vice versa—export components for assembly). They would need to have a physical processing plant located in Vietnam to claim “Made in Vietnam” COO. With that member-country COO, China now enjoys zero-tariffs on those products exported to member nations. That is a significant counter to the US—China trade tariffs, and a direct result of CPTPP. Advance Vietnam Tire Co. (owned by Guizhou Advance Type Investment co., Ltd, of China) is an almost identical example to ACTR; other than Advance is not a joint venture. China could have invested in other CPTPP countries, but Vietnam is the most attractive and cost-effective venue for FDI compared to others.

The EVFTA contains similar provisions as the CPTPP regarding tariffs and duties. With the EVFTA now in force, China has poised itself to take advantage of this new regulatory environment for the European markets. Using the examples from above, China will now be able to compete (in effect with domestic-preference) directly with Europe’s largest physically domestic producer of tires, Michelin.

Before CPTPP, EVFTA, and the US—China trade tensions, Chinese investors were mainly small businesses with out-dated technology, but now many large corporations are funding large-scale projects. Five of the seven biggest foreign-invested projects in the last five months came from Chinese backers, including not only the ones already discussed, but also a US $260 million electronic equipment and multimedia audio products manufacturing project invested by Hong Kong-based Goertek Co., Ltd.[7] Chinese investors are also increasing merger and acquisition (M&A) activities. Hong Kong topped foreign investors in Vietnam with the US $3.8 billion purchase of Vietnam Beverage Co. Ltd, in Saigon Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Corp (SABECO).

It appears clear from the investment activity in Vietnam since the onset of CPTPP that it has had a substantial positive impact on FDI. With the advent of EVFTA coming in force (and providing similar—if not more—beneficial trade platforms), Vietnam will have a multitude of investors rushing to reap the benefits of those trade agreements. For Vietnam be able to absorb this inevitable expansion of its FDI landscape the government needs to adapt holistically (and quickly) to the new global trade environment they have embarked on to realize its full potential.

EVFTA and CPTPP Vocational Training Market Opportunity

As Phan Huu Thang mentioned, education and training and renewable energy will be some of the hottest sectors in the coming months and years for FDI. An often-overlooked aspect of FDI is Vocational Training Schools. Vocational training will be critical to the long-term success of Vietnam’s infrastructure platforms, especially when operating and maintaining an enhanced energy and power sector. With highly advanced and technologically complex energy platforms (especially renewables) comes a requirement for competently trained personnel to sustain them. Vietnam has a large workforce pool; however, technical training for these opportunities is currently limited.

The EVFTA and CPTPP both have provisions easing the access of engineering and technology support to assist in achieving the required knowledge and training skillsets.[8] Vietnam recognized this also and updated their regulatory requirements regarding vocational schools through Decree 15 (15/2019/ND-CP), which specifies the order and procedures for opening foreign-invested vocational training schools.[9] The FDI project would need to be in line with the national planning of vocational training in Vietnam, but the threshold capital requirements have been lowered to VND 5 billion (US $216,000) to open a vocational training centre, VND 50 billion (US $2.2 million) for a vocational secondary school, and VND 100 billion (US $4.4 million) for a vocational college.[10] In addition, if a project is aligned with an industry of national priority or significance (enter renewable-energy), the Ministry of Labour will be the sole authority on issuing licenses[11]—a departure from the traditional methodology in an effort to streamline the process. This is good news for many renewable energy projects. Not only will a foreign business have more opportunities for development under CPTPP and EVFTA, but they can also add a minimal supplement to that investment and create the necessary workforce to support it.

An example from USA clearly demonstrates the opportunity in vocational training schools. In 2011, Boeing, Inc. opened a final assembly facility for the 787 Dreamliner in Charleston, South Carolina. Along with that came a demand for technically trained personnel to operate the complex facility and to have personnel trained in the intricate technology involved in assembling the aircrafts. Boeing invested US $80 million to have an aeronautical vocational training facility built near Boeing’s assembly plant (completed June 2019).[12] This is a win-win for Boeing. They provided the initial funding to build the vocational facility; in return, they have professionally trained personnel, and the government takes over costs of maintaining the training facility. Boeing also gets guarantees from the government to repay Boeing’s initial investment through tax incentives and bond issuance. This is a textbook case of vocational FDI supplementing an already significant investment.

As many foreign investors establish their presence even more in Vietnam’s infrastructure landscape, this is another opportunity for FDI to affect Vietnam’s (and the investor’s) bottom-line. The EVFTA and CPTPP are enablers as they both allow services to flow less restrictively between the parties. Phan Huu Thang noted that for Vietnam to realize its fourth-industrial-revolution plan (4IR), local enterprises [must] be encouraged to cooperate with foreign-invested enterprises to learn experience, transfer technology, and receive support in training.[13] Vocational training centers will help fill that need.

Summary

Vietnam’s FDI has been steadily increasing for decades. FDI has helped transform Vietnam from a poor nation to the verge of a massive middle-class population. CPTPP and EVFTA are two vehicles that will propel Vietnam across that line and perhaps even further. The tangible benefits of CPTPP are already proving themselves as evidenced by the hard-data collected. The unintended effects on FDI from non-member countries, however, have a distinct possibility of compounding those benefits exponentially as others see the potential of CPTPP and EVFTA. Traditionally under-utilized sectors for FDI in education and training are also poised to take advantage of these trade agreements. While not the most high profile, E&T are necessary support vehicles to sustain the larger sectors. Vietnam has been slow, thus far, in aggressively changing their regulatory environment to adapt; however, they need to act expeditiously to fully reform their regulatory environment in order to meet this inevitable influx of FDI.

***

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com or any other lawyers in our office listing. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.
Thank you very much!

VIETNAM AGRICULTURE FARMING 4.0 – Issues and Solutions – Impact of the Major Trade Agreements CPTPP, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

A. Introduction

The biggest challenge in the agriculture and farming sector is to actually take the step to invest in new digital technologies. From a short perspective, this is associated with high costs for farmers. In the long term, however, it can increase yields and protect the environment significantly. So far, there have been three key phases in the development of agriculture and farming, namely mechanization, the introduction of mineral fertilizers and industrialization. The fourth phase is the currently evolving digitization. The positive effects of intelligent and digital agriculture can be significant.

When technological agriculture started (with utilization of satellite navigation and remote sensing to farm each square meter as efficiently and sustainably as possible), it seemed to be very unlikely for the ordinary farmer to gain benefits from it since the costs were too high. However, nowadays, it is possible for many farmers to collect a tremendous amount of data and use inexpensive small processors to make use of the information and to control equipment or monitor animals with it. Through digital smartness and connectivity, the agricultural machines can collect weather data, order spare parts or access detailed information about the field from a central, cloud based farm management software.

However, the technology development in the farming sector in Vietnam is still in its infancy. The digitalization has not reached Vietnams farming sector yet. The farmers are still using basic computers, standard internet information and basic information and communications technology in general. Many did not even reach the industrialization yet, using the telephone, light bulb, and the internal combustion engine. Still, a growing number of farmers is starting to adopt digital technology and data-driven innovations.

B. Precision Agriculture

Precision Agriculture (PA) is a key component of the agricultural digitization and means to apply the exact and correct amount of inputs like water, fertilizer, pesticides etc. at the correct time to the crop for increasing its productivity and maximizing its yields. It provides farmers with information to build up a record of their farm, helps to make decisions, promotes traceability and provides better marketing of farm products. Finally, it enhances the quality of the product itself.

Efficient farming must increase and the government should support investors of this sector. For instance, from 1900 to 1930 worldwide, each farmer produced enough food to feed about 26 people. In the 1990s, the so-called Green Revolution lead to new methods of genetic modification, therefore each farmer was able to feed about 155 people. The global population is increasing and by 2050 it is expected that the worldwide population will reach to almost 10 billion, thus food production must effectively double from the current magnitude. With the introduction of new technological improvements of precision farming, each farmer could be able to feed 265 people on the same acreage.

The first steps of PA came in the forms of satellite and aerial imagery, weather prediction, variable rate fertilizer application, and crop health indicators. The second wave collects the machine data for even more precise planting, topographical mapping and soil data. Another example of developed technology is the Geo-Localization. With this, field data can be captured. An analysis of soils, residual nitrogen, soil resistance and past harvests takes place. Further, by now, self-steering tractors do most of the work. The farmer only needs to intervene in emergencies. Through GPS connection, they spread fertilizer or plough land. Another notable innovation is a solar powered machine that identifies weeds and precisely kills them with a dose of herbicide or lasers.

C. Precision Livestock Farming

Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) aims to improve the efficiency of production. It helps the farmer and ensures the well-being of the animal through applying advanced information and communication technologies, targeted resource use and precise control of the production process. Through this technology, the contribution of each animal is streamlined. By this individual approach, the farmer can deliver better results in livestock farming. Those results can be quantitative, qualitative and sustainable.

PLF can significantly improve livestock farming. It can ensure animal welfare because the whole procedure is being documented on farms. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission can be reduced and environmental performance of farms can improve. Further, PLF can facilitate product segmentation and reduce illegal trading of livestock products.

D. Benefits and obstacles

Utilizing new technology can deliver more yields and greater environmental protection. For instance, farms in Germany using advanced digital technology have reported higher yields per hectare while reducing nitrogen levels considerably, as well as cutting herbicide and diesel use by 10% – 20%. Farmers thus obtain a return on their investment by saving on water, pesticides and fertilizer costs. The second large-scale benefit is to reduce the environmental harm. Applying the right amount of chemicals in the right place and at the right time benefits crops, soils and groundwater, and thus the entire crop cycle.

However, there are rarely any examples of successful commercialization of PLF technologies. There is currently an abundance of information available to livestock managers, but it is not generally structured in a way that can be applied readily.

The farmers and investors hesitation might be due the involving risks. The noted risks include financial failure because of unforeseen environment or market circumstances, damage to the farm infrastructure such as soils and pasture, compromises to animal health and welfare, and increased stress on farmers from managing the allegedly complicated systems. Thus, it is important to develop a management system that ensures only the most essential procedures are carried out, they are all carried out correctly and consistently, and in a way that controls risk.

E. Solutions

For the implementation of digital farming in Vietnam, a good collaboration between the public sector, industry players and the farming community is significantly important. In specific, decision-makers and the national government need to ensure that the basic digital infrastructure for rapidly growing data flows, in terms of network coverage and transmission rates in rural areas, is put in place. Further, the government must set incentives that boost investment in agriculture, especially during low time commodity prices. Lastly, it is important that the farmers accept and are able to handle the upcoming change. Not only is their attitude important, but also to ensure that they have the necessary digital skills.

The international market can only be reached by more transparency and traceability. For consumers and retailers it gets increasingly more important to trace the origin of their food. How was the crop cultivated, under what conditions did the animal grow up and be bred? At the same time, the gathering of this information can simplify the farmer´s documentation on compliance with legislation. Lastly, farmers need the security, that ownership and control of their data are protected. For this, a regulating contract law, that states that the data generated on a farm is the property of the farmer, needs to be settled.

F. Outlook on Major Trade Agreements TPP 11, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US’ participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The provision of the agreement specified that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries). The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October 2018, therefore the agreement will finally come into force on 30 December 2018. Recently, on the 12th November 2018, Vietnam has officially became the seventh member of the CPTPP.

The CPTPP is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. This will make the Vietnamese market more attractive due to technology advances and the reduction of production costs. The effects of the TPP 11 promise great benefits for the agriculture sector in Vietnam and will support Vietnam’s national agriculture to transform into a self-sufficient and competitive sector. Furthermore, sustainable environments are a primary concern of the CPTPP agreement. With the Most-Favored Nation Treatment principle, the TPP 11 is ensuring a fair competition, which will attract new foreign investments as well as support for the agriculture sector in its restructuring process. Moreover, national farmers must adopt high-developed technologies in nutrients and animal healthcare to be competitive. This will lead to more safety and trust of the consumer in the agriculture market in Vietnam.

One another notable major trade agreement is the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVNFTA). The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam and to bring more capital into Vietnam due easier access and reduction of almost all tariffs of 99%, as well as obligation to provide better conditions for workers.
Both agreements promise great benefits for the agricultural and farming sector in Vietnam. The food industry is a very hesitating industry in general. Naturally, farmers usually invest part of their gains in technology. However, they buy just the ordinary machinery instead of new technology like software or sensors. The trade agreements could lead to the end of this hesitation and finally demonstrate the economic benefits of the new technologies. Further, the co-ordination between researches, developers and technology suppliers of PLF tools could be streamlined.

To enable at least some parts of the FTA to be ratified more speedily at EU level, the EU and Vietnam agreed to take provisions on investment, for which Member State ratification is required, out of the main agreement and put them in a separate Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Currently both the FTA and IPA are expected to be formally submitted to the Council in late 2018, possibly enabling the FTA to come into force in the second half of 2019.

Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. Every investor should use these standards. It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases.

Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.

This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!

VIETNAM – BANKING AND FINANCING SUSTAINABLE GROWTH – Issues and Solutions – Impact of the Key Trade Agreements CPTPP, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

A. Introduction

Vietnam is one of the countries in Asia with the most impressive economic growth. Inflation remains well controlled and foreign exchange reserves are at their highest levels in years and they continue to rise. The effective and economic state administration has been recognized by the international markets, most recently with the appreciation of the Vietnamese credit rating by Fitch Ratings. In the future, it is expected that Vietnam will continue to show strong economic growth. A particularly strong area is the electronics production. In addition, financing sustainable growth and providing credit and good financial services is essential to all who need it.

The focus of the government and the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) should be geared to lending in strong sectors. This implies that quotas should be distributed appropriate and that there should be no upper limits in a given sector. Only with this credit can be provided sufficiently in the priority sectors. This will benefit strong and profitable companies while controlling and reducing risk in critical sectors.

In addition, the focus is on recapitalization and consolidation of the financial sector, which leads to fewer but stronger banks. Furthermore, the digitization of the Vietnamese economy continues to increase, with the next step being to create a comprehensive legal framework that further promotes digital development, including the use of the forthcoming national biometric identity system.

In the future, a change in banking regulations should be also considered. The rules are currently issued on the basis of basic laws such as the Civil Code. As a result, opening accounts for companies that are not legal entities is difficult. Addressing the above issues will, in the long term, lead to a strengthening of the banking sector. This will bring more and more FDI´s into the country and Vietnamese people and companies will benefit from it.

B. Decree 116 and related issues

With regard to Decree 116, there are problems in lending that banks have. There are currently challenges related to public information and verification. It is very time-consuming for the banks to obtain the relevant information from the client, there are only limited independent sources of information, and there are different definitions of the criteria used to identify beneficiaries in Vietnam and international common practices.

Banks are facing the difficult situation of being able to verify that a natural person owns 10% or more charter capital in a legal entity. Natural persons who hold 20% or more charter capital to companies whose equity capital is more than 10%; private business owners; and other persons actually controlling the company, in accordance with the provisions for determining beneficial owners referred to in Article 5.1, Decree 116/2013 / ND-CP.

The banks have difficulties in how to verify that an individual holds 10% or more charter capital in a legal entity, individuals holding 20% or more charter capital in entities having more than 10% equity in the legal entity, private business owners and other individuals who actually control the entity, under regulations on identifying beneficial owners referred to in Article 5.1, Decree 116/2013/ ND-CP.

To solve this problem, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) could make the following arrangements. Only the ultimate beneficial owner holding directly and indirectly 25% or more of the charter capital must be identified. Further, it is not necessary to identify ultimate beneficial owners in case the customer is rated as low-risk by financial institutions incorporated in Financial Action Task Force member nations, because these institutions have advanced anti-money laundering and financing terrorism control systems, and are monitored by relevant host country regulators.

C. Outlook on Circular 19/2014/TT – NHNN

Circular 19/2014/TT – NHNN contains revisions for foreign exchange control in direct investment and portfolio investment to be consistent with latest rules on foreign investment. One of most frequent issues related to foreign-invested companies is the Investment certificate being used as the only reference to identify a directly investing business for foreign investment capital account opening purposes. However, this does often not reflect properly the nature of the investment activity and existing regulations on investment activities (Investment Law of Nov. 26, 2014, Decree 118/2015/ND-CP, providing details and implementing guidance for specific clauses of the Investment Law).

Furthermore, given the development of derivative markets in Vietnam, the Circular can be revised to cover specifically derivative securities and include relevant reporting indicators for investment in these securities by foreign investors.

D. Outlook on the Major Trade Agreements TPP 11, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The provision of the agreement specified that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries). The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October 2018, therefore the agreement will finally come into force on 30 December 2018. Recently, on the 12th November 2018, Vietnam has officially become the seventh member of the CPTPP.

The CPTPP is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. This will stimulate domestic reforms in many areas, especially the financial sector. As a result, the above mentioned issues could be addressed gradually and therefore more FDI´s will come to Vietnam.

One another notable major trade agreement is the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVNFTA). The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam and to bring more capital into Vietnam due easier access and reduction of almost all tariffs of 99%, as well as obligation to provide better conditions for workers. In addition, the EUVNFTA will boost the most economic sectors in Vietnam. Due to easier opportunity on making business, trade and sustainable development will be a good consequence for an even more dynamic economy and even better investment environment in Vietnam in general and especially in the financing sector.

To enable at least some parts of the FTA to be ratified more speedily at EU level, the EU and Vietnam agreed to take provisions on investment, for which Member State ratification is required, out of the main agreement and put them in a separate Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Currently both the FTA and IPA are expected to be formally submitted to the Council in late 2018, possibly enabling the FTA to come into force in the second half of 2019.

Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. Every investor should use these standards. It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases. In relation to the TPP, the scope of the ISDS was reduced by removing references to “investment agreements” and “investment authorization” as result of the discussion about the TPP’s future on the APEC meetings on 10th and 11th November 2017.

Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.

This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!

Vietnam – Mining Action Plan – Issues and Solutions – Impact of the Major Trade Agreements CPTPP, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

A. Outlook

Vietnam´s mining industry is still largely undeveloped. Most operations are insufficient and harm the environment. However, there is great potential due to the variety of unexploited mineral resources. The discovery and mining of new minerals can be significantly facilitated with Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs). This provides the opportunity to use international, modern, efficient, sustainable and secure technologies for the procedure. This implementation would have a huge impact on Vietnam’s economic growth and would lead to a reduction of public debt.

For most countries in the world, mining has been the cornerstone of economic growth and infrastructural development. It has been estimated that only about 10 percent of Vietnam’s base metal and precious metal resources have been discovered so far. This is because the country has so far never been methodically researched with modern technologies and the right know-how to find deeper, richer or larger deposits. The focus of the Vietnamese mining industry has been almost exclusively on less expensive, easily findable or near-surface energy materials such as coal and bulk commodities such as iron ore, bauxite, sand and limestone.

Vietnam’s largest state-owned mining company is Vinacomin. According to their estimates, more than 1.500 mining companies are registered in Vietnam, of which about 55% are state-owned, 36% by private Vietnamese companies and only 9% by foreigners.

B. Lack of technology

Vinacomin is the first company to acknowledge the major shortcomings and confirmed the existence of obsolete technologies, lack of mechanization, inadequate infrastructure, large workforce but with low productivity, excessive energy consumption, high safety deficiencies and unacceptable environmental pollution. In Decision No. 2356-TKV of 15 June 2016, Vinacomin has now set its priority on technological innovation.

The challenge, therefore, is to modernize the Vietnamese mining industry and make innovative technologies accessible. To do this, the government must create incentives to encourage investors, otherwise FDI’s hardly ever come to Vietnam.

C. Government´s mining policies and issues

The current mining policy in Vietnam has two major weaknesses. First, the existing laws are unstructured and are therefore applied inconsistently. There is some evidence that there are conflicting interpretations of fees, tariffs, environmental protection fees, product quality and to it related mining taxation issues between local regional authorities and ministries such as the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Finance.

Second, Vietnam is one of the countries with the highest taxes on mining worldwide. This has a negative impact on investments in modern technologies and technological innovations. All of this leads to further problems such as the continuation of inefficient and wasteful mining practices, the deterioration of well-known mineral deposits and the environment of Vietnam as well as the increase of illegal mining and tax evasion. Vietnam’s royalties, export duties and other charges are far above other comparable countries. As an example, the royalty for nickel is 10%, but other minerals such as tungsten and gold have even higher license rates. Many mining projects therefore fail due to lack of sufficient profitability.

Positively, there is, however one exception. A hitherto highly successful project of modern technologies and international standards on a Vietnamese mining operation is the Nui Phao. This is the largest tungsten production mine in the world to date, contributing significant value to Vietnam’s economy by converting the ore into purified chemical products before exporting. However, as with all mining projects, future development will depend on the continued evolution of global commodity prices, variability of ore grades, mining conditions, etc., and therefore the prohibitively high taxes themselves may jeopardize this project.

The reasons for the high taxation are to some extent comprehensible or the background can be explained. Hereby the aim is, to maximize benefits for the government and Vietnam´s economy. However, this can not be achieved if the taxes are so high that mines are closed because they are not profitable. As a result, this leads to a change to the contrary, namely to the loss of valuable tax revenue, because first, the tax revenue source for the government is lost (mining companies) and secondly, the number of people trying to circumvent the tax rules increases. The former also leads to the loss of legal employment opportunities.

D. Solutions and conclusion

A solution to the above mentioned conflicting legislation could be to create clear and unambiguous legal regulations. Alternatively, there is a possibility to be practice-oriented and to ensure a uniform application of the law through state support in advising the mining industry and coordinating intergovernmental departments. The effectiveness of this coordination and the associated transparency would be a clear incentive for the providers of FDI as well as for strong local investors.

Regarding the high taxes for mining, the problem can be solved by a fair tax system for the government and investors. The taxes should simply be reduced, which means no negative consequences for Vietnam’s economic budget (see above).

The advantages associated with the solutions are obvious. It goes without saying that the richest mineral deposits are located in more remote and mountainous areas. The population in these areas is usually characterized by particular poverty and the infrastructure is in need. A modern mining project would have a positive impact on both. On the one hand, every mining project creates a large number of jobs, local goods are promoted and orders are distributed to service providers. On the other hand, the infrastructure will develop significantly, because modern and efficient mining is hardly possible without a good infrastructure, so that the construction companies are forced to build the infrastructure itself.

To sum it up, there are essentially three solution concepts. First, existing mining legislation could be revised and more transparent, clearer, investor-friendly rules could be created. Second, state co-ordination of law enforcement can be established to ensure a consistent and effective application of the relevant rules. Third, a fair tax system for government and investors likewise should be created.

E. Outlook on Major Trade Agreements TPP 11, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US’ participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The provision of the agreement specified that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries). The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October 2018, therefore the agreement will finally come into force on 30 December 2018. Recently, on the 12th November 2018, Vietnam has officially become the seventh member of the CPTPP.

The CPTPP is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. The Agreement could bring the needed FDI to the mining industry in Vietnam. Hence new mining methods and better technologies will be introduced to the mining industry and this will lead to the spare of environment. To be able to benefit from the TPP 11, Vietnam has to amend its mining regulations, particularly, the above mentioned taxes and royalty rates must be reduced.

One another notable major trade agreement is the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVNFTA). The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam and to bring more capital into Vietnam due easier access and reduction of almost all tariffs of 99%, as well as obligation to provide better conditions for workers, which is a key aspect in terms of working at mining projects. In addition, the EUVNFTA will boost the most economic sectors in Vietnam. Due to this significant boost, the government might reconsider its mining tax regulations. If that step will be eventually taken, there are good prospects for investors that bring modern technologies and international standards to the country, that their mining project will be successful just as the Nui Phao operation is.

To enable at least some parts of the FTA to be ratified more speedily at EU level, the EU and Vietnam agreed to take provisions on investment, for which Member State ratification is required, out of the main agreement and put them in a separate Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Currently both the FTA and IPA are expected to be formally submitted to the Council in late 2018, possibly enabling the FTA to come into force in the second half of 2019.

Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. Every investor should use these standards. It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases. In relation to the TPP, the scope of the ISDS was reduced by removing references to “investment agreements” and “investment authorization” as result of the discussion about the TPP’s future on the APEC meetings on 10th and 11th November 2017.

Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.

This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!

Vietnam – Healthcare and Medical Devices – Investment – With Outlook on the Major Trade Agreements CPTPP, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

A. Overview of the future of Vietnam´s healthcare sector

There is no denying that Vietnam truly is an attractive investment destination in South East Asia. It has great potential to develop a qualitative, self-sustaining life science sector. Improvements on the healthcare sector will lead to several benefits. With increasing focus on healthcare, manufacturing, service providers, clinical research organizations and others are being stimulated. As a result, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are boosted and exports could replace the need for foreign aid by attracting sustainable FDIs and PPPs.

Of particular importance for a positive development is the close cooperation between the major stakeholders from the private and public sector. In this process, certain core goals should be set. Significantly, it is important to ensure swift, sustainable access to medical treatment and to urgently improve the quality of the treatment process. High-quality domestic treatments not only improve patient satisfaction but also improve one’s own economy by counteracting outgoing medical tourism.

Furthermore, it should be ensured that the existing investors remain in Vietnam and new ones are pulled ashore. To do this, investors must be shown that the Vietnamese market does not contain undetected risks, but is stable and predictable. Further, integrate opportunities for collaborations and partnerships to develop local capability.

B. Outpatient: Home care and home-treatment

One major issue regarding Vietnams Healthcare sector is the limited capacity in hospitals. There is a gap between bed capacity and demand of inpatient treatment. The Minstry of Health has his hands full to counteract the overloading of hospitals. Even institutions with larger bed capacity have eventually set up a home care service to enhance the follow-up monitoring of chronic and long-term illnesses for patients that have been released from the hospital.

The patients in Vietnam are financially overburdened with the costs of treatment, therefore affordable treatment is needed. This however, has to be reached without the loss of quality. Especially the indirect costs of healthcare, such as travelling, meals during hospitalization and loss of income during treatment put patients and their families under enormous financial pressure. Due to the overload and the fact, that the home care services are not fully developed yet, patients tend to take care for themselves with the help of their family. This causes eventually potential additional health complications due to the lack of professional follow-up. Furthermore, patients will return often back to the hospital and subsequently, in some cases, with more severe conditions.

The healthcare expanses are moreover, as in almost every country, a significant burden for the household.

Overall, professional homecare programs and access to them should be simplified and improved to counteract hospital congestion. This is especially necessary for the chronically ill. Home care and home-treatment can help to reduce public spending on chronic diseases and thus spare the health budget. At the same time, easier access helps the chronically ill.

C. Implementation

There are two major requirements for putting the whole thing into practice. Firstly, the creation of a clear legal framework. It contains incentives for small and large scale investors and creates transparency. This encourages multinational companies to invest and transfer their know-how to Vietnam, eventually ultimately work closely with the local companies. Secondly, to streamline the administrative process to shorten the process of delivering new, high-quality patient care solutions, and to respond to the growing need for a growing Vietnamese population for rapid and sustainable access.

D. Medical Devices Industry Code of Conduct

Background of the Code of Conduct for medical devices are the various risks associated with the industry, in particular unfair competition between industry players. The Code is intended to facilitate ethical interactions among members of society who develop, manufacture, sell, distribute or distribute medical technology in Vietnam and individuals and organizations that apply, recommend, buy or prescribe medical technologies in Vietnam. The content of the Code of Conduct should focus on 1) strict compliance with laws and regulations in the area; 2) prioritization of people and health and safety of patients and 3) promoting scientific and educational activities to best benefit the patient.

For multinational companies, the compliance area is usually very pronounced and strict. It is therefore particularly important to invest in an ethical business environment, especially when investing in high-risk jurisdictions. The commitment to uphold high ethical standards would certainly bring about long-term benefits for the health sector in Vietnam and attract more investors.

E. Outlook on Major Trade Agreements TPP 11, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US’ participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The provision of the agreement specified that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries). The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October 2018, therefore the agreement will finally come into force on 30 December 2018. Recently, on the 12th November 2018, Vietnam has officially become the seventh member of the CPTPP.

The CPTPP is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. An increase of trade will have great influence to the health- and medical sector. The agreement is suitable to support Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs), which could lead to a positive impact in development of innovative technologies of medical devices and facilitate the transfer of necessary know-how. Lower or no trade tariffs can lead to lower import costs for the essential components of medical devices. This, in turn, results in lower acquisition costs for the medical practices and hospitals, thus eventually lowering the treatment costs.

The annexes of the CPTPP (TBT chapter) deal with specific challenges of trading regarding pharmaceuticals, medical devices and technology products. The provisions commit the Members to define what medical products are and when they are subject to the state laws. These information have to be published. Furthermore, the annexes will help to optimize regulatory approvals and make the regulations clearer. Authorization decisions are made based on certain risk-based criteria. Moreover, the regulations help to ensure timely mitigation measures if a product application is not approved or is deemed deficient. Due to this new transparency, and the tariff elimination, the CPTPP will bring great benefits for all traders of medical devices, employees in the medical industry as well as for patients.

A specific example would be, that Canada currently faces tariffs of 7% imposed by Vietnam regarding exports of life sciences products such as medicines in doses for retail sale. With the agreement to become effective, these tariffs will be fully eliminated. As a result, Canada and other countries are exporting more and more products to Vietnam, gradually improving equipment in Vietnam’s medical facilities.

One another notable major trade agreement is the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVNFTA). The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam and to bring more capital into Vietnam due easier access and reduction of almost all tariffs of 99%, as well as obligation to provide better conditions for workers. In addition, the EUVNFTA will boost the most economic sectors in Vietnam. Both agreements promise great benefits for the health- and medicine sector.

To enable at least some parts of the FTA to be ratified more speedily at EU level, the EU and Vietnam agreed to take provisions on investment, for which Member State ratification is required, out of the main agreement and put them in a separate Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Currently both the FTA and IPA are expected to be formally submitted to the Council in late 2018, possibly enabling the FTA to come into force in the second half of 2019.

Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. These standards should be used by every investor. It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases. In relation to the TPP, the scope of the ISDS was reduced by removing references to “investment agreements” and “investment authorization” as result of the discussion about the TPP’s future on the APEC meetings on 10th and 11th November 2017.

Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.

This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!

Vietnam – Power Energy Action Plan – With Outlook on the Major Trade Agreements CPTPP, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

A. Overview of the Power Master Plan 8

Vietnam contains huge potential regarding the production of clean energy. It has best conditions for developing solar power due to being one of the countries with the most sun hours during the year and best conditions for creating wind power due to 3000km coastline. As a result, Vietnam in general, is able to attract many Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) for developing clean energy projects.

Therefore, the aim of the current Power Master Plan 8 (PMP8) is to develop power sources, in which renewable energy (wind, solar, bio) will be prioritized, in order to stepwise increase the proportion of electricity generated from renewable energy sources. Core elements are to establish links between international and domestic companies. Thus, the international finance and technology should be connected to the domestic banks and the expertise of domestic companies. In addition, a market must be developed that attracts large-scale companies and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) equally.

Furthermore, there will be improvements to the solar power market and the Solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) model, which could apply from 1 July 2019. If the PPA is improved to meet the standards of international and domestic banks, the cost of financing solar power plants can be reduced. Feed-in tariffs could provide 2 billion USD in foreign investment in solar energy by 2020.

The new PPA should focus on the key areas termination payments, curtailment and failure to take or pay by Vietnam Electricity (EVN), dispute resolution / arbitration clauses and the application of the feed-in-tariff for 20 years the PPA for new solar projects, which reach their commercial operation date by 30th June 2021 with a reduced feed in tariff. These improvements should equally apply to the standard PPAs for wind power, biomass and waste to energy.

In addition, a government market-driven electricity price system should be created, which includes a welfare state price system and thus supports low-income citizens. To make this possible, the price for the middle class has to be raised. Furthermore, the need for government guarantees must be reduced. In order to counteract electricity wastefulness, incentives for private sector investment in distributed clean energy generation and energy efficiency with fair and transparent electricity tariffs are necessary.

With regard to the price of electricity, there will be essentially three types of movement. First, the daytime hourly tariff will be redesigned for commercial and industrial consumers. This is intended to reduce the peak load of the transmission system and transmission losses. Second, regional differences in retail tariffs are developed. Third, a market-based electricity tariff is set, which contains flexible regulations and thus allows adjustments and increases in efficiency.

It will be important for the government to upgrade transmission and distribution. A regulator regime is to build, which allows and encourages construction and use of bio-mass, solar, wind and other clean sources of power generation for private and public users – office, residential, manufacturing, communities, and industrial – small scale and large scale, and to speed up decision making and set predicative procedures to encourage development of off shore gas, LNG, efficiencies, and renewables.

B. Future recommendations for VL Direct Power Purchase Agreement

The Application of PPA should be extended and even used for commercial power consumers (offices, hotels, resorts and supermarkets), hence they can reduce their electricity costs. The project aim should be to make a major investment in clean energy generation. Guidelines could be to reach at least 300MW of new clean energy generation in 2018/2019 and to invest about 400 Million USD.

The Electricity Regulatory Authority of Vietnam (ERAV) and EVN must define as soon as possible a so-called “wheeling fee”. Wheeling is the transportation of electric energy (megawatt-hours) from within an electrical grid to an electrical load outside the grid boundaries. At least for the first 5 years of operation the fee should be fixed. Afterwards, an increase is possible in agreed in conjunction with business groups and WE.

C. Outlook on Major Trade Agreements TPP 11, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US’ participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The provision of the agreement specified that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries). The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October 2018, therefore the agreement will finally come into force on 30 December 2018. Recently, on the 12th November 2018, Vietnam has officially become the seventh member of the CPTPP.

The CPTPP is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. This will make the Vietnamese market more attractive due to technology advances, reduction of production costs and because of the high demand on renewable energy. Sustainable environments are a primary concern of the CPTPP agreement.

An increase of trade should not mean negative influence to the environment. In contrary, due to the increased focus on the need for energy efficiency and reduced emissions renewable energy could experience a crucial growth. The agreement is suitable to support Public-Private-Partnerships (PPPs), which could lead to a positive impact in development of innovative technologies and alternative energy sources. Lower or no trade tariffs can lead to lower import costs for the essential components of renewable energy production. This, in turn, results in lower investment costs and lower production costs, thus increasing the cost-effectiveness of introducing renewable energy technology.

One another notable major trade agreement is the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVNFTA). The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam and to bring more capital into Vietnam due easier access and reduction of almost all tariffs of 99%, as well as obligation to provide better conditions for workers, which is a key aspect in terms of working at power plants. In addition, the EUVNFTA will boost the most economic sectors in Vietnam. Moreover, the EUVNFTA will provide certain tax reductions to 0% for clean technology equipment as well as equal treatment for companies. Due to easier opportunity on making business, trade and sustainable development will be a good consequence for an even more dynamic economy and even better investment environment in Vietnam in general and especially in the power/energy industry.

Both agreements promise great benefits for the energy sector in Vietnam and will help the PMP8 to connect international to domestic companies. The elimination of the tariff lines and custom duties are advantages to major companies and SMEs alike.

To enable at least some parts of the FTA to be ratified more speedily at EU level, the EU and Vietnam agreed to take provisions on investment, for which Member State ratification is required, out of the main agreement and put them in a separate Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Currently both the FTA and IPA are expected to be formally submitted to the Council in late 2018, possibly enabling the FTA to come into force in the second half of 2019.

Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. We alert investors to make use of these standards! We can advise how to best do that! It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases. In relation to the TPP, the scope of the ISDS was reduced by removing references to “investment agreements” and “investment authorization” as result of the discussion about the TPP’s future on the APEC meetings on 10th and 11th November 2017.

Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.

This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!