Tag Archives: investment

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Resurrecting the TPP

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Vietnam steps up sale of SOEs

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Determining demand

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Energy giants next?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Vietnam – Solar Energy – Action plan for getting deals done with the new Power Purchase Agreement

Interview with Dr. Oliver Massmann\

1. Which significant changes does the new PPA contain for the solar energy sector?

Decision 11 introduces the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) rate of UScents 9.35 per kWh. The FiT rate is only applicable for on-grid solar power project with efficiency of solar cells greater than 16% or with efficiency of the modules greater than 15%. The FiT rate depends on the currency exchange rate of the Vietnamese Dong and the US-Dollar. The rate remains the same throughout the whole year. It is adjusted by the Vietnamese State Bank on the last working day of the year for being used in the following year.

As a result, the financial planning is easier and it grants certain security for investors such as protection against currency fluctuation.

2. Which aspects in the new PPA have changed compared with the draft PPA from April 2017?

Compared with the draft PPA, the FiT rate is now indicated in the final version and there is reference to the adjustment of the FiT in case of USD/VND exchange rate fluctuation.

The MoIT made no big changes regarding the shortcomings of the draft of the PPA from April 2017.

The investor still has to bear the biggest risk.

3. Is the PPA bankable?

No, in general the PPA is not bankable in its final version.

4. Is there a way to make it bankable?

Yes, it is possible to make the PPA bankable. We have 20 years of experience making PPAs bankable for gas and coal fired power plants and wind energy plants in Vietnam. The investor should use all business channels and experienced negotiators to make the PPA bankable.

It is a matter of negotiation and experience. Decision 11 is granting investors the possibility to negotiate the conditions with EVN. The price remains fixed.

Agreements such as the EU – Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (“EVFTA”) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”), which is now called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“CPTPP”), lay a big milestone for making the PPA bankable.

The EVFTA was signed in 2015 and is expected to be ratified by all member countries by 2018. It is probably going to take effect in 2019. It is estimated to generate an increasing GDP and to liberalize the economy of Vietnam. Another aspect is the elimination of almost all custom duties (over 99% of all tariff lines). As a result, there will be a huge impact on trade development and the interest of investors.

Another important agreement is the CPTPP. On 4th February 2016 the TPP was signed between 12 countries. The signing nations made up 28% of the global trade and 40% of the global GDP. However, at the beginning of 2017, the US President Trump decided to withdraw from the TPP. The remaining 11 member states discussed the future of the TPP in APEC event in Da Nang, Vietnam and agreed to push ahead with the TPP but now under the name of CPTPP. Furthermore, the states agreed to work out a new framework agreement, which includes changes to the previous TPP agreement. The largest amendment was made in the field of intellectual property, for example, easing the protection of copyright or the special protection of biologics and pharmaceuticals.

However, the level of market access is still the same as in the first TPP. For some countries, further negotiations have to take place and they need time to adapt their laws to the CPTPP rules. The negotiators have set the goal of signing the revised TPP by the first quarter of 2018. After 6 countries have ratified the partnership, it will come into effect.

With the CPTPP, market access to more sectors will be opened than the WTO such as telecommunication, distribution of goods, manufacturing and fabrication. However, there will remain a few restrictions in the power/energy sector as discussed below.

As a result of the EVFTA and the TPP, Vietnam will get access to a huge part of international markets. This gives Vietnam the possibility to increase the amount of imports and exports (estimated up to 37% higher until 2025) and to improve foreign investments.

Another essential instrument is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)[N1] which is going to be applied under the EVFTA and the TPP. 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.

As a conclusion, the bankability of the PPA will get enhanced as a consequence of the EVFTA and TPP in the next few years if the legislative framework is being reformed in the right direction. The economy will become more dynamic because of access to other markets and further foreign investments. With the implementation of the ISDS in the TPP, investors will be more secured in relation to dispute resolution and protection against the risks of international trading. As a result, banks will be more willing to finance PPAs.

Our recommendations: For now, the bankability of the PPA is not as it is expected. But you should be aware of the upcoming agreements which will lead to a big impact on the economy growth and the economy itself. If everything is improving in the right direction as it is now, the PPAs will be more bankable in the future and there will be better investment opportunities.

5. How was the bankability issue handled in the past years?

The TPP and the EVFTA are not the only agreements regarding the bankability of the PPA.

Vietnam and the USA signed the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) in 1999 which was implemented in 2001. It was a huge success and very important agreement for the economy of Vietnam. It was the first opening of the Vietnamese market and important for the creation of more business opportunities and new standards for financing projects.

Another important fact was Vietnam’s accession to the WTO in 2007. This has improved trade relations between Vietnam and other countries by removing trade barriers and the commitment to non-discrimination. It was also a political sign to show Vietnam’s will to get integrated in the international trade by accepting international trading rules.

To be able to fulfill the commitments, it is necessary to make legislative adjustments and adopt laws that ensure the viability and efficiency of the projects. In the last years, many important laws have been introduced. They have helped to enhance the bankability of the PPA, for example, the 2014 Investment Law, 2014 Enterprise Law, 2012 Labor Law, etc.

In addition, in 2011, the legal framework for wind power projects was introduced.

Our recommendation: You should use existing international agreements and local laws as the bases for negotiation. Remember to rely on existing precedents and keep in mind that there are some difficulties for project development. But with a well-structured project development, it is still possible to getting a bankable PPA done.

6. What are the main risks of the PPA for investors?

With many solar projects currently focused on a few central locations, the capacity of existing facilities to absorb power must be a cause of some concerns given the PPA’s transfer of such risk to power producers.

EVN holds a monopoly of distribution, repair, maintenance, inspection and examination of the grid.

There is a big risk because of the lack of the government’s guarantee for EVN’s payment obligation in cases energy is provided from the producer but cannot be transmitted due to interruption of EVN’s grid connection. One solution for bridging that guarantee gap can be the use of the MIGA backup from the Worldbank (Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency) or backup from the Asean Development Bank.

Reasons for the interruption can be, for example: force majeure or termination of contracts. EVN can refuse transmitting the energy in cases of maintenance or repairing.

Circular 16 does not contain any guarantee or compensation for investors in these cases.

Our recommendations for avoiding potential risks: Be aware of veto rights of EVN and Vietnamese authorities. You have to be patient because the decision making process in Vietnam goes through many levels and takes time.

7. There will be conflicts between the investors and EVN because of the shift of risks to the investors. Which means of conflict resolution does the PPA grant to investors?

In general, the PPA is governed by the Vietnamese law.

The PPA does not provide for international arbitration as a means of dispute resolution.

Conflicts can be submitted to the Department of Electricity and Renewable Energy. If this option fails, investors can seek help at the Electricity Regulatory Authority of Vietnam (ERAV) or with application to a Vietnamese court.

The PPA implicitly allows the involvement of domestic and offshore arbitration. However, whether it can be a prior agreement with EVN in the PPA or only until there is an arising dispute simply lies in the hands of EVN.

Our recommendations for successful negotiations with EVN: You have to understand how EVN is working and what their targets are. Be aware of their monopoly position in the energy sector in Vietnam. Don’t try “to reinvent the wheel”!

Do not overexert them with too ambitious intentions related to the development proposal. They might be afraid of so many new things. Rely on workable precedent strategies and make reference to successful projects.

8. Which view does the MoIT hold regarding the shortcomings of the PPA?

The MoIT knows about the shortcomings of the PPA and is aware about the fact that the PPA will not attract investors to meet the power demand or to solve problems regarding the development of renewable energy.

The MoIT also knows that the solar energy sector in Vietnam has a lot of potentials.

Finally, the MoIT expects to attract smaller investment projects where bankability is not really an issue for the investors.

9. Is the view of the MoIT realistic?

In our opinion, the MoIT’s view is not realistic. It may lead to unfeasible projects because of the existing risks of the final version of PPA and without assurance for supportive services from a bank. Furthermore the success of projects depends on the result of the negotiation with EVN.

10. Which advice can you give to future investors regarding their project development?

Be aware! You have to take care of your project on a step-by-step-base and get well prepared for the negotiations with EVN when you decide to invest in an on-grid power project.

***

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

 

Thank you!

 

 

 

Vietnam’s waste-to-energy projects should be low hanging fruit

While alchemists of years past failed to turn lead into gold, technology today can turn waste into energy, and more efficiently than ever before, proving there is not only money to be made from rubbish, but also neat solutions to perennial problems.

Vietnam has long struggled with issues of waste management, with a recent study estimating that Ho Chi Minh City alone discharges 8,300 tonnes of waste each day. At the same time, power shortages and outages remain a part of daily life in parts of the city.

The country’s most popular method of solid waste treatment is still burial, with up to 76 per cent of trash ending up in landfills. Dump sites are prevalent thanks to their relatively low cost, little initial investment and ability to handle most types of solid refuse. However, the increasing amount of waste, lax management and disregard for technical protocols are rapidly making this method unsustainable. A number of environmental incidents have also raised the alarm over the pollution and contamination caused by this method of waste management.

Rapid urbanisation is partly behind the vertiginous increase in waste ­– rising urban populations are creating serious waste management problems for cities all over the world. In Vietnam in particular, with economic growth, urban residents are enjoying rising wages and living standards, in turn producing more waste.

Rising populations are also putting the strain on the country’s power-generation capabilities – a problem that will require significant investment over the coming years.

 Waste not, want not

A number of companies are working in Vietnam’s clean energy space, and while headlines are usually dominated by wind and solar power projects, the waste-to-energy sector has been enjoying some development too. The idea of converting Vietnam’s growing waste problem into a solution for its shortage of power could kill two birds with one stone.

The capital city of Hanoi inaugurated its first industrial waste-to-energy facility in April this year, supplying electricity to the national grid. With a waste treatment capacity of 75 tonnes per day and a power generation capability of 1.93MW, the facility is a pioneering project in Vietnam’s industrial waste treatment industry.

Almost all of the factory’s equipment was supplied by the Hitachi Zosen Company of Japan. With total investment capital of US$29 million, including more than US$22.5 million of non-refundable aid from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organisation (NEDO) and the remainder extracted from the city’s budget.

With advanced technology from Japan, the factory demonstrates the potential in this area of clean energy and its attraction to foreign investors. If all goes well, the company has plans for another plant in the capital city and more across the country.

Australia’s Trisun Energy is another firm showing interest in this field, having set a major investment target of building up to 20 power-generating waste treatment plants in Vietnam over the next 5 to 10 years. The company, founded in 2011, is currently completing a comprehensive study of a waste-to-power plant in Ho Chi Minh City. According to Trisun, the plant will be capable of burning up to 3,000 tonnes of garbage per day, or more than 40 per cent of the city’s waste.

In addition to Japan and Australia, some leading Finnish companies are at the forefront of addressing the issues of waste and energy.

A delegation of 16 Finnish exhibitors set out some of their plans at the Vietwater 2017 expo, which recently concluded in Ho Chi Minh City. These include solutions for contaminated landfill sites and waste-to-energy projects; the development of biogas technology; and the generation of electricity from biomass and waste.

Doranova is one such firm. Since early January 2017, Doranova has been constructing a landfill gas plant in Binh Duong, north of Ho Chi Minh City. The plant will extract harmful methane emissions from a nearby landfill, generating electricity while reducing environmental pollution. According to the company, the plant will provide additional power generation options from waste materials for residents and businesses in the city.

 Not a wasted opportunity

These projects in Vietnam’s biggest cities represent small steps towards solving the country’s waste epidemic. They also help to diversify the national energy mix, which is crucial in ensuring the supply of energy meets the expected rise in consumption.

The increased focus on the clean-technology sector and particularly energy efficiency, renewable energy technologies and waste management provides business opportunities for international players who have the knowledge, expertise and technology needed in this field. The question is whether Vietnam will take full advantage of the opportunity.

Though a promising start has been made, the widespread implementation of waste-to-energy facilities will require a more concerted effort from authorities. The country’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MoNRE) has set ambitious targets for the collection, reduction, reuse and recycling of waste nationwide. By 2020, 90% of urban domestic solid waste is to be collected and treated, with 85% recycled and reused.

Indeed, Hitachi Zosen Company (behind Hanoi’s waste-to-energy plant) has expressed concerns over the incentives and investment conditions provided by the Vietnamese government. The company, as well as a number of Japanese investors, are keen on rolling out the waste-to-energy model across the country. However, a lack of favourable investment conditions for foreign investors is holding back the industry. At present, investors are waiting for Vietnam to enact new public-private partnership regulations, before deciding on next-step investments.

The waste-to-energy sector in Vietnam holds a lot of potential, and technological advances mean that win-win solutions to both an abundance of waste and shortage of power are more affordable than ever. Combined with efforts in other areas of renewable energy, and the entry of international players, significant progress can be made in green power generation. As ever, the amount of progress depends on the attractive policies set out by the government. Investors are ready, and Vietnam would be wise not to let the opportunity go to waste.

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

Spotlight on APEC and Vietnam

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Focus on free trade

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

All eyes on Danang

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Public debt puts the squeeze on government guarantees, stifling project finance projects in Vietnam

Vietnam’s economic success story is evident in the rapid development of its big cities. However, while the country’s growth has outpaced its neighbours, so has its debt; a factor that threatens to de-rail growth.  Not least of all because of the impact on the government’s ability to give guarantees to underpin privately-financed infrastructure.

 

Over recent decades, the government has spent significantly. Priority has been given to roads, export zones and other critical infrastructure. This is evident across the country, where highways, tunnels, factories, airports and metro systems are being expanded, or built from scratch, at an incredible pace.

 

The biggest macroeconomic challenge facing Vietnam today is sustaining that growth. The government needs to be more rigorous about how it spends money, leveraging it better to attract and benefit from private funds rather than prop up State-owned entities.  The looming spectre of public debt will need to be tackled before the country finds itself in a precarious position.

 

Vietnam’s total public debt as of mid-July 2017 reportedly stood at US$94.6 billion, or about US$1,038 per capita. In fuelling the country’s celebrated growth, public debt has increased consistently, from 36% of GDP in 2001 to about 62.4% in 2016. According to an IMF forecast, it will hit 63.3% and 64.3% in 2017 and 2018, respectively, while the self-imposed public debt ceiling is set by the government at 65% of GDP for 2020.

 

Vietnam’s public debt compares unfavourably with the rest of the region, with Thailand coming in at 41 percent of GDP and Malaysia at 56 percent, according to the World Bank.

 

The annual growth of public debt during 2011-15 was 18.4 per cent, triple the annual GDP growth rate, which averaged about 5.9 per cent over the period.

 

A squeeze on guarantees

 

In an effort to tackle the ballooning public debt, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) announced changes to regulations on Government guarantees earlier this year. The adjustment is one of the regulations stated in the Government’s Decree 04/2017/ND-CP (Decree 04), superseding Decree 15/2011/ND-CP (Decree 15), issued on February 16, 2011.

 

Taking effect from March 1, the maximum level of Government guarantees for a programme or project was reduced from the previous level of 80 percent. Decree 04 replaces this with a three-tiered cap on the amount of guaranteed debt as a percentage of the investment capital depending on the size or importance of the project, each lower than the cap established in Decree 15.  In all cases this is far lower than the golden days of Vietnam’s early privately financed infrastructure projects like the Phu My 3 and Phu My 2.2 power projects which both enjoyed near total guarantees.

 

The current highest level of guarantee, set at 70 percent, applies to projects that must be implemented on an urgent basis, and have been approved by the National Assembly or the Prime Minister. Secondly, for projects whose total investment is at least VND2.3 trillion (US$102 million) and have been approved by the Prime Minister, the maximum proportion guaranteed by the Government is 60 percent. A cap of 50 percent will be applied to other projects.

 

In continuing to restructure of the country’s public debt with more stringent monitoring of projects, the decree aims at tightening the provision of Government guarantees and enhancing the management of public debt.

 

However, at a time when Vietnam needs to develop much infrastructure, notably in the energy sector, and requires substantial foreign investment to do so, Decree 04 makes it more difficult for private investors to obtain MoF Guarantees for projects.

 

Ticking debt time bomb

 

Taking the energy sector as an example, questions remain over EVN’s economic health. Tariffs on electricity have long been maintained at below cost levels. The policy of low subsidised tariffs to maintain the competitiveness of domestic industry and keep consumers happy is putting pressure on the government and EVN’s balance sheet.

 

The average retail electricity tariff stood at just above US$0.08/KWh as of 2016, the lowest in Southeast Asia, and only just above EVN’s average generation cost of US$0.075/KWh (excluding transmission and distribution costs). This has depressed sector cash flow and contributed to EVN’s rising debt.

 

This has raised concerns among private sector investors over EVN’s ability to pay for electricity generated as the single buyer, while the current low retail tariffs mean that investors are not confident of negotiating adequate prices for generation projects.

 

With the situation likely to continue, EVN’s financial position will surely deteriorate, leaving it with unsustainable debt and unable to finance capital expenditure. This would force private sector investors to seek increased government guarantees. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the government is looking to rein in such largesse. As Vietnam’s economy grows, the previously abundant soft loans and ODA are beginning to dry up, meaning that the sources of support for private finance are becoming harder to find.

 

In order to reduce risk, the developers of major infrastructure projects may need to seek out private insurance groups or institutions like the World Bank’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). However, these options obviously don’t come without their own costs. Investors, and ultimately end consumers, will have to take the hit.

 

Much of Vietnam’s current fiscal position can be blamed on poor management. The state-owned giants that have lost their repayment ability on Government-guaranteed loans are passing on the burden to the Government.

 

The sluggish privatisation of State-owned enterprises means that inefficiency will continue. The sooner this process is completed, the better for the economy as a whole. Measures like reducing government guarantees may be prudent, but if Vietnam wants to maintain its economic momentum serious action is needed to first untangle the mess of intra-State bad debt.

 

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

Vietnam plays a calculated game of risk with new solar PPA

Vietnam appears to be betting on gung ho enthusiasm to kick start solar power development rather than taking bold steps to deliver a stable backbone to the industry.  It’s a gamble that may pay off in the short term but might also saddle the country with poorly-conceived and under-performing projects in the long term.

 

To much fanfare, Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) released Circular 16 in including final template power purchase agreements (PPA) for the solar energy sector. The circular and PPA templates follow a draft issued back in April this year, and are stated to be mandatory templates for utility-scale and rooftop solar projects.

 

The original draft PPA for utility scale grid projects was met with criticism, and declared non-bankable by most experts and commentators (despite hewing closely to the previously-issued standard PPA for wind projects). Unfortunately, little has changed with the final version of the PPA.  Would-be investors raised serious concerns over the amount and type of risk the PPA sought to shift to investors, and the message delivered was that unless the government was willing to address some of the most glaring problems, few reputable foreign solar players and, just as importantly, few reputable financiers would be likely to sign up.

 

Having largely ignored recommendations provided, the final text does little to inspire confidence. The final PPA does not improve upon the main critical issues highlighted in April.  Issues include a lack of measures to compensate producers for interruption in the ability to receive power, force majeure conditions, contract suspension, and settlement of disputes.

 

Tariff trouble

 

With the FiT rate of US$0.0935/kWh for grid-connected solar power projects confirmed, Circular 16 goes on to outline that the FiT is available for 20 years to projects, or parts of projects, that reach commercial operation before 30 June 2019.

 

As with the draft from April, the final PPA does not include any indexation of the FiT to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to address inflation risks. In response to concerns over fluctuating exchange rates, the circular does state that “the FiT for the following year shall be adjusted according to the central exchange rates of the Vietnamese dong against the US dollar announced by the State Bank of Vietnam on the last working day of the preceding year.”  Annual adjustment is better than none but it wouldn’t have been difficult to spread adjustments throughout the year.

 

As a way to offset the relatively low tariff, and inflation risks, investors may be able to benefit from tax exemptions on raw materials and supplies imported for their projects, corporate income tax relief, and an exemption from land rental fees within the first three years of commencing commercial operation.

 

A risk too far?

 

Under Decision 11 (which also set the FiT) and the final version of the PPA appended to Circular 16, Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) is responsible for purchasing the entire power output from grid-connected projects at the stated FiT.

 

However, the PPA relieves EVN from payment obligations in cases where it is unable to take power due to a breakdown of the transmission or distribution grid. With many solar projects currently focused on few central locations, the capacity of existing facilities to absorb power must be a cause of some concern given the PPA’s transfer of such risk to power producers.

 

Worryingly, the PPA lacks any mechanism to compensate power producers should interruptions happen outside of their control. Not only does the PPA not provide for extension of time in case of force majeure, but if force majeure were to prevent a power producer from meeting its obligations for a year then EVN could unilaterally terminate the PPA with no compensation payable.  In such circumstances, the power producer is left alone in the dark.

 

Such arrangements might be acceptable to projects that manage to negotiate clear ‘take or pay’ terms and/or government guarantees, but it is highly questionable whether and to what extent either of these will be possible in the current climate.  As a direct consequence, it is equally questionable to what extent private finance will be prepared to bear the risk, a fact that will prompt capital to seek more favourable conditions in other markets.

 

Playing by house rules

 

If the above portends of problems in the relationship with EVN, investors may be further discouraged by the lack of specifics in terms of dispute resolution. The PPA is governed by Vietnamese law and does not itself expressly include the right to agree on international arbitration to resolve disputes, a condition that would typically be considered an important requirement.

 

As it stands, disputes can be submitted to the Electricity Renewable Energy Department (formerly the General Directorate of Energy) for mediation. If that doesn’t work, there is the option of escalating the issue to the Electricity Regulatory Authority of Vietnam (ERAV) or pursuing litigation in Vietnam’s courts.

 

The PPA does allow for “another dispute resolution body to be agreed by the parties”, which potentially opens the door for sellers to negotiate with EVN on dispute resolution, including offshore or even domestic arbitration.  But it is not clear if EVN will agree to directly amend PPAs to allow for express prior agreement on offshore arbitration or simply open the door for such a discussion at the time of a dispute.  Clearly in the latter case the deck is firmly stacked in EVN’s favour.

 

One step forward… wait and see

 

The MoIT is well aware of the deficiencies in the PPA and knows that, in its current form, it will not attract the kind of investment Vietnam needs if it is to meet both its energy demands and renewable targets. They know that investors were hoping for some of the shortfalls to have been addressed, and as such the agreement remains – for all intents and purposes – largely unbankable.

 

On the other hand however, the MoIT is also acutely aware of the significant interest in Vietnam’s solar sector. The vast potential of solar power is there for the taking, with abundant land available for the development of solar farms for first movers. With this in mind, the PPA can be considered an attempt to test the waters – asking how much risk investors are willing to bear in return for a piece of the action.

 

The MoIT is confident that smaller, nimble players will be attracted to Vietnam and make investments, regardless of the bankability of the PPA on paper. The question truly posed by Circular 16 is: exactly how much risk are investors willing to accept?  What better way to test it than in open market conditions?  If risk allocation adjustment need to be made in future, the Prime Minister, MoIT and EVN can make them relatively easily.

 

Ultimately, although the PPA is “final” on paper, the real trick is for investors to work hard and smart to agree adjustments on a project-to-project basis that re-align specific risks in acceptable ways.  Each project is a sum of many different elements and successful investors in the early days at least will be the ones that focus their energies on key issues for their projects where they can make meaningful progress.  Opportunity vs. risk: Vietnam is playing a calculated game at the dawn of the solar energy sector.  Where the chips fall remains to be seen.

 

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

Vietnam’s proposed wind power price hike – is it enough?

One of the main criticisms levelled at Vietnam’s wind power sector is the relatively low feed-in tariff (FiT) introduced by the government in 2011. With the country’s rapid growth, energy demand is expected to soar over the coming years. Coupled with international pressure to keep to its greenhouse gas commitments, Vietnam is in desperate need of large-scale and long-term investment in its renewable energy sector.

 

The buying price of VND1,614/kWh (US$0.078) was set for all land-based projects in the country, with 6.8 cents paid by State-run power monopoly Vietnam Electricity (EVN), and the rest coming from the country’s Environment Protection Fund.

 

However, the rate, intended to encourage the development of wind power projects, was considered insufficient for investors to recover their investment capital. The tariff is also much lower than in neighbouring Indonesia (US$0.11), Malaysia (US$0.1476) and Thailand (US$0.19).

 

Change of direction

 

Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) has recently proposed an adjustment to the rate, asking the government to raise the buying price for wind power in an effort to help investors cover high input costs. It is hoped that such a move would push foreign firms to develop new wind power projects or expand their existing farms. Accelerated development in this sector is vital if Vietnam is to meet the energy targets it has set for itself, as well as wean the country off dirty and expensive imports of coal.

 

The ministry has suggested the price be lifted to US$0.087 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for wind energy projects on land and US$0.0995 cents per kWh for offshore farms. Such a rate would still lag behind regional competitors and the global average of US$0.196 per kWh as reported by the World Energy Commission, but may present a more feasible option to investors.

 

On top of the off-putting FiT, the number of wind power projects in Vietnam remains low as only wind turbine towers, accounting for 20 percent of production costs, can be produced locally, while investors have to import the remaining components.

 

Not winding down yet

 

There’s little doubt about the country’s potential for wind exploitation ­– according to a World Bank report, 8.6 percent of Vietnam’s land mass is suitable for the construction of wind farms, which would produce sufficient electricity to meet a lot of current and future power needs.

 

Some of the country’s currently operating wind farms, specifically in the province of Binh Thuan, work with the previously promulgated FiT of US$0.078 per kWh, and the Bac Lieu wind farm enjoys US$0.098 per kWh due to its offshore location.

 

The MoIT has highlighted these projects as part of the reasoning behind the rate hike. Concerns have been raised by the investors behind the projects over the time it would take to recover their investment capital. In fact, the investors in question had previously requested authorities raise the regulated FiT to $0.095 per kWh, but were unsuccessful.

 

According to the investor of the Phu Lac wind farm, the first phase of the project, which came into operation in November 2016, has total investment capital of VND1.1 trillion (US$48.4 million). With the existing FiT, it would take around 14 years to recover the investment of just the first phase. Considering the average lifespan of a wind farm is just 20 to 25 years, it’s no wonder that developers are hesitant about breaking ground on new projects.

 

As of now, there are 48 registered wind power projects with total capacity of 5,000MW in Vietnam, 23 of which have had their pre-feasibility reports approved by the MoIT and are patiently waiting for an increase in the FiT. It remains to be seen whether the suggested increase is enough for the projects to move ahead.

 

Incremental improvement

 

The proposal by the MoIT demonstrates an acceptance that despite a range of tax benefits offered to foreign investors including exemptions from customs duties, a preferential corporate tax rate of 10% and income tax and land use fee exemptions, the government’s initial energy strategy proved unappealing to investors. To offset any complaints, the trade ministry has calculated that the price adjustment they are proposing would raise EVN’s production costs by a slight VND0.08 per kWh this year and VND0.23 per kWh in 2019.

 

Even a light increase in the FiT, as put forward by the MoIT, could stoke some growth in the sector. The attraction of foreign investors capable of producing complicated parts could mean that the localisation ratio is bumped to more than 40 percent. For example, China has reached a localisation ratio of almost 100 percent for their wind power projects, but the selling price of the energy stands at around US$0.08 per kWh.

 

In summary, the proposed hike seems insufficient to really improve Vietnam’s position as a renewable energy leader in Southeast Asia. The sector remains riddled with problems of transparency and the perpetual presence of giants like EVN is an obstacle for smaller private players looking to enter the market. A meagre FiT does little to neutralise the risks faced by investors and power producers, especially with more promising offers in the region. The silver lining, however, is that authorities are open to change. The MoIT is echoing the concerns of the renewable energy sector, from both established and potential projects, and looking at ways to develop a more favourable climate going forward. Even if they’re not yet blown away by the increase, investors would do well to watch this space.

 

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

Hope and hesitation at M&A forum

Discussion at this year’s Vietnam M&A Forum, which took place earlier this month in Ho Chi Minh City, revolved around the challenges facing Vietnam’s M&A market and the need for a big push to maintain the momentum of previous years.

 

As of this month, deals have fallen short of the record levels in 2016, and surpassing the US$5.8 billion total looks like a tall order. Although impressive, last year’s figure represented just 5% of Southeast Asia’s total M&A activity, with Singapore alone claiming over 50%. Additionally, 64% of the deals in Vietnam were valued at less than US$20 million. While 77% of the deals were domestic, Thai firms were the biggest foreign buyers in terms of value, enacting aggressive takeovers of major Vietnamese firms in retail and consumer goods. In terms of quantity most deals came from Singapore and Japan.

 

With advantages of proximity in terms of geography, culture, and climate, Thai firms have sought to penetrate the growing Vietnamese market quickly. Alongside other neighbouring nations who have struggled as their home markets mature, they have increasingly sought high-growth or low-production-cost economies for expansion elsewhere.

 

There is a lot to celebrate, but the total value of M&A activity reached just US$1.1 billion in the first quarter of 2017, a drop of 24.4 percent year-on-year. A slowdown in the State’s equitisation process is partially to blame for the drop, and many of the speakers at the M&A Forum expressed the need for a big push in the second half of the year.

 

Trains, planes and automobiles

 

To continue the high rate of economic growth achieved over the past few years, the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) concluded that Vietnam is in dire need of M&A investment in the infrastructure sector. Deals need to come in thick and fast across many branches of the economy, with roads, railways, airports and seaports needing upgrades to meet international standards, in addition to the continued expansion of the country’s real estate and retail conglomerates.

 

As well as the increased divestments of State-owned enterprises, Vietnam’s administrative policy framework will need to be improved to attract and accommodate foreign investors.

 

Banking on big deals

 

Besides recent prime ministerial decisions regarding the SOE equitisation process, the government has made a priority of dealing with non-performing loans. This in particular could mean big news for M&A activity in the banking sector.

 

A resolution was recently adopted by the country’s National Assembly, with the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) aiming to reduce the ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) to below 3 percent by 2020. As part of the resolution, credit institutions, foreign entities and bad debt trading institutions will be able to buy and sell bad debts in an open and transparent way.

 

The move has had a positive impact on banking shares, and recent reports suggest that South Korea’s Shinhan Bank is poised to acquire a financial institution in Vietnam, following its takeover of ANZ Vietnam’s retail business. Two Japanese investors are also negotiating the purchase of stakes in two different Vietnamese financial institutions.

 

Moves like these show that foreign firms appreciate the potential of Vietnamese consumer finance, especially with attempts to unburden the system of its bad debt. StoxPlus, a leading financial and business information corporation in Vietnam, valued the market in 2016 at US$26.55 billion, with an annual growth rate of 30-40%.

 

Japan’s interest is good news for Vietnam’s budding financial sector, which could do with an injection of experience from more established players.

 

So, there is reason to be optimistic. However, participants at the M&A Forum stressed that foreign-ownership limits and the lack of clear regulations in areas attractive to big investors are still obstacles to fulfilling the country’s potential.

 

Dearth of details

 

Foreign investors often bring up the subject of transparency, which remains a big issue. The opaque investment environment can complicate negotiations in Vietnam, and this is particularly true when dealing with equitised state-owned enterprises. Investors are required to make substantial upfront commitments in terms of time and money at the early stages of the bidding process, shouldering significant risks to enter the market.

 

Used to dealing with more sophisticated operations, the financial statements of Vietnamese companies can also fall short of investors’ expectations. There is certainly a need for advisors and consultants, who can help with valuations and due diligence, offsetting some of the risk involved.

 

Until Vietnamese firms grow large enough to regularly participate in substantial cross-border M&A deals, foreign partners will need to make sufficient preparations when it comes to tax and legal requirements. Over time, Vietnamese companies will become more aware of the requirements set forward by investors in M&A transactions, which will generate more deal flow as well as shorten the transaction process.

 

Cause for cautious optimism

 

These complaints aside, the overall impression at the M&A Forum was positive, with some predicting that M&A activities in Vietnam would double or triple over the next five to ten years. With some adjustments it’s certainly possible to surpass 2016’s deal value in the short term, especially if the growth of the consumer retail sector continues to attract the attention of Korean investors. Raising the foreign-ownership limits in Vietnamese banks could also prove to be a tipping point for some big transactions.

 

To maintain momentum over the long term, however, more significant adjustments will be needed. The issues of equitising SOEs, state divestment and the foreign ownership cap will become more urgent as time goes on. The government will need to respond to suggestions and support legal reforms if the country is to attract more M&A capital. Crucially, the efficiency and transparency of the M&A market will need to be improved for foreign investors. Policymakers have promised that further legal reforms are underway and the government is pushing forward with state divestment. Let’s hope they keep to their commitments.

 

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

Risk and reward in Vietnam’s real estate as investors ignore uncertainty over future of land rights

Vietnam has emerged as an attractive destination for foreign investors looking to enter the real estate market. Driven by a fast-growing economy, high rate of urbanisation and expanding middle-class, cities like Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City have become dynamic and lucrative metropolises. For those willing to shoulder the risks, the market offers substantial rewards and great potential over the coming decades.

 

Much of the development can be attributed to the implementation of the Land Law (No. 45/2013/QH13), Law on Housing (No. 65/2014/QH13) and Law on Real Estate Business (No. 66/2014/QH13), which effectively opened the floodgates to foreign investment in real estate.  In principle, these laws allow foreigners most of the same rights as locals when it comes to purchasing and owning real estate.  Many foreign development companies are jumping at the chance to develop new residential and commercial properties in one of the world’s fastest growing economies.  Question marks remain however over the underlying rights foreign-invested developers enjoy in the land on which these buildings sit and it remains to be seen how this will play out.

 

Lack of Certainty 

 

For many developers the country’s political landscape remains a hurdle. In Vietnam, land is collectively owned by the people, and administered by the State on their behalf. Under this system, property owners are denied full and legal ownership over the land. Their rights to the land are limited to ‘land use rights’ within the scope permitted by law.  A land user is issued a land use right certificate (LURC) that recognises the land user’s rights over the property.  There are different types of land use rights possible and some come very close to being analogous to freehold ownership as many would know it in the West (use right in perpetuity, subject to reversion and compulsory public works acqusitions, right to sell, transfer, mortgage etc).

Continue reading Risk and reward in Vietnam’s real estate as investors ignore uncertainty over future of land rights