Tag Archives: TFA

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.

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Vietnam – Transport – Logistics – Trade – Customs- Dramatic Changes ahead: The WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement – The IMPACT

 

Sixty-five million years ago, the last of the dinosaurs went extinct. The event caused dramatic changes to the planet and provided space for new species on earth. A similar event and change is about to happen in Vietnam and all other WTO members. It is the entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA).

What is the TFA?

The TFA is a document adopted by WTO member countries at the 9th WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia on 6th December 2013 after 10-year negotiation.

In order for the TFA to take place, two-thirds of the 164 WTO members have to notify their ratifications to the WTO after forming a National Committee on Trade Facilitation.

In November 2015, Vietnam became the 60th country to ratify the TFA. On 22nd February 2017, the TFA officially entered into force after Rwanda, Oman, Chad and Jordan submitted instruments of acceptance of the TFA to the WTO, bringing the total number of acceptances to 112 while only 110 ratifications are needed for the TFA’s entry into force. At the time of writing this article, there have been 118 ratifications received by the WTO.

What is the TFA about?

The TFA aims at expediting the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders, helping to cut trade costs globally and creating a significant boost for global trade and commerce system.

The TFA is a self-contained agreement and includes three separate sections. Section I includes 12 Articles covering a range of specific trade facilitation measures. Section II covers special and differential treatment for developing country members and least developed country members. The final section deals with institutional arrangements (i.e., establishment of a Committee on Trade Facilitation within the WTO and at a national level) and miscellaneous provisions. The TFA will interact with other legal commitments specified in the WTO Agreement and Multilateral Agreements on Trade in goods.

The agreement requires its members to ensure the availability and prompt publication of information about cross-border procedures and practices, mandates that rights of appeal for traders be improved, fees and formalities connected to the import and export of goods be reduced, customs clearance procedures be faster and conditions for freedom of transit of goods be improved, just to name a few. The TFA also contains measures for effective cooperation between customs and other authorities involved in the facilitation of trade and customs compliance issues. Overall, the main purpose of the TFA is to simplify and harmonize customs procedures among all WTO member countries, which will later result in cutting red tape that slows down and impedes international trade, thereby speeding up of the goods flow across borders.

Different from other agreements, the TFA pays particular attention to developing and least developed countries when allowing them to set their own implementation schedule. While developed countries have to immediately implement the agreement, developing countries will only have to implement the TFA provisions that they have designated as Category A commitments. Other categories of commitments are Category B commitments, which will be implemented after a given period; and Category C commitments, which will apply to the countries after they are provided with technical assistance and capacity building support. Based on the latest WTO’s statistics, there have been 46% of 240 notifiable article items notified to the WTO, of which Category A measures account for 40.5%, Category B measures account for 3.3% and the remaining 2.3% is for Category C measures.[1] Vietnam has already submitted to the WTO its Category A commitments on 31 July 2014.

Why is the TFA important?

The impact of the TFA implementation can even be compared with the worldwide tariffs reduction and elimination. According to the WTO, full implementation of the TFA can reduce trade costs by 14.3% on average with many developing countries and least-developed countries forecast to enjoy the highest reduction (15.8-23.1%) (including Vietnam). This could result in up to US$1 trillion of gains around the world annually. In addition, the time needed to import and export goods (thanks to streamlined customs procedures) is much more reduced. Full implementation of the TFA also adds 2.7% a year in global export growth by 2030, and creates more jobs and growth on a global scale (i.e., more than 0.5% to world GDP growth). For developing countries and least-developed countries, their annual exports will increase by 3.5% together with an increase in the diversity of exported goods because of the TFA implementation. In US dollar, “the TFA has the potential to increase merchandise exports of developing countries by up to 730 billion dollars per annum.”

The TFA is vitally important and has the potential to fundamentally reform global customs practices. One could question why. Here are some of the main reasons:

  • The TFA includes provisions on facilitating rapid movement of goods across borders such as advance rulings, pre-arrival processing, allowing the release of goods prior to final determination of customs duties, taxes, fees and charges.
  • The TFA helps to ensure the predictability of rules and procedures related to trade and customs by requiring its members to timely publish relevant documents preferably on the Internet and establishing enquiry points to respond to enquiries by interested parties.
  • The TFA aims at creating harmonized process and standards which traders find it familiar and predictable when doing customs procedures in different countries.
  • The TFA recognizes the importance of growth and benefits for every member states. Thus, it provides for special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries to make sure these countries receive sufficient assistance to reap the full benefits of the TFA implementation. In addition, the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement Facility will support developing and least developed countries in addressing their needs and concerns.

Overall, the agreement demonstrates the commitment of the WTO member states to trade reform, and increased confidence in the multilateral trading system.

Impacts on Vietnam?

The TFA is expected to boost national and business competitiveness as a result of Vietnam’s implementation of its commitments under the agreement.

On 13 October 2016, the Prime Minister issued Decision No. 1969/QD-TTg on approving the “Plan of preparation and implementation of the TFA of the WTO”, and identifying specific responsibilities of each ministry in upcoming years (Decision 1969).

According to Decision 1969, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) is the national agency to implement the TFA. In particular, the MOF is responsible for, among others:

  • Implementing national outreach plans to provide information on the TFA;
  • Operating the single-window system;
  • Classifying Categories A, B, and C provisions;
  • Seeking technical support and assistance for capacity building;
  • Formulating roadmap for implementation of Categories B and C provisions; and
  • Reviewing relevant legal framework for further amendments.

Other ministries are tasked with coordinating with the MOF in the implementation of the TFA: the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, etc.

Following the issuance of Decision 1969, Vietnam has formulated plans to implement Categories A, B and C. The Prime Minister also signed the decision to formally establish on the National Steering Committee on ASEAN Single Window and the National Single Window regime on trade facilitation. On 06 February 2017, the Government also issued Resolution No. 19/2017/NQ-CP on improving the business environment and national competitiveness. The Prime Minister once said: “It is not acceptable to take 4 days to complete customs procedures for exports which is 2 times higher than the regional average, and 4 days for imports while the regional average is only 3 days.” Following the Government’s directive and strong momentum for reforming customs procedures caused by the TFA implementation, Vietnam has been reviewing thousands of customs procedures and revising several legal documents to bring them into conformity with its commitments in the TFA.

The Government cannot act otherwise if it hopes to help Vietnamese businesses to be competitive in the global marketplace. These improvements will greatly facilitate trade across borders, thereby reducing the costs in both time and money for Vietnamese businesses. In general, it is expected to reduce the time needed to import goods by over a day and a half and to export goods by almost two days.  For Vietnam, the TFA could reduce trade costs by 20% and trade facilitation measures will help businesses in formal international trade. According to Mr. Nguyen Dinh Cung, Director of the Central Institute for Economic Management, one-day reduction in customs clearance time could result in a saving of VND1.6 billion. It is a huge amount given the busy customs activities in Vietnam’s ports.

A lot of work has been done so far to implement the TFA. However, there is still a long way ahead and we have good reasons to expect further dramatic changes to come.

***

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

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[1] https://www.tfadatabase.org/notifications/by-measure

Lawyer in Vietnam Oliver Massmann Core Features of new Investment Law for Investors

1) In your opinion, what are the most important features of the new investment law from an investor’s perspective?

It is considered as the most-investor friendly investment law ever in Vietnam. It provides clearer investment procedure timeline, consolidated conditional business sectors, defined capital ratio to be qualified as foreign investors which determines which licensing procedure applies. Notably, it explicitly states that there would be no investment registration certificate required for M&A transaction.

2) What impact do you expect these to have? How effective do you think this law will be?

The investment environment will become more attractive. Investors would face less burdens and unexpected statutory requirements. A new wave of M&A is expected to come. However, the real effectiveness of this law would need to be assessed at a later stage when the implementing decrees are issued. As long as these documents have not been adopted, positive changes that the new investment law is said to bring are just theoretical.

3) How does this law fit in with the current investment climate of Vietnam, and the growth and development path the country is taking?

Vietnam is making great efforts to integrate into the world’s economy. The EU-Vietnam FTA is at the final stage whereas the TPP is also expected to be concluded soon. The Government of Vietnam is fiercely improving the business and investment environment and making great attempts to achieve key economic indicators of top regional countries until 2016. Resolution No. 19/NQ-CP/2015 of the Government dated 12 March 2015 has set out the Government’s strong commitments and positive changes to improve the business environment and strengthen the economy’s ability to compete in 2015 and 2016 by pushing for reforms to reduce time-consuming and burdensome administrative procedures; enhancing governmental offices’ transparency and accountability; and adopting international standards. These positive changes could be seen clearly in the tax, insurance and customs related sectors.

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.

INTERESTED IN DOING BUSINESS IN VIETNAM? VISIT: www.vietnamlaws.xyz

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