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Vietnam Logistics Law – New Decree 163 – Nothing to See Here?

Despite media reports to the contrary, Vietnam’s new logistics regulation does not further open up the market to foreign investment but newly requires compliance with e-commerce regulations.

On 20 February 2018, Government Decree No. 163/2017/ND-CP on logistics services will replace the old Decree 140/2007/ND-CP. Many foreign investors had hoped for further clarification and market access in the logistics sector. The new Decree 163 does not grant new rights to foreign investors, at least on paper, and may even introduce new uncertainties in practice. While the most interesting new provision could turn out to affect the digitalization of logistics processes.

Issued in 2007, just when Vietnam acceded to the WTO, Decree 140 is ancient for Vietnamese law standards. The law has moved on since then, as Vietnam opened most service sectors to foreign investors, including many (but not all) business activities in the logistics sector. A few points on Decree 163 are outlined below.

I. “Logistics” redefined

Foreign investors (and Vietnamese businesses seeking foreign investment) must closely review each business activity they plan to conduct in Vietnam to see if foreign ownership limitations and other conditions apply. The old Decree 140 defined “logistics” with reference to Article 233 of the Commercial Law 2005. Article 3 of the new Decree 163 defines and regulates the following “logistics services”:

Logistics services under Article 3 of Decree 163

  1. Container handling services, except for provision of such services at airports.
  2. Container warehousing services as part of maritime transport support services.
  3. Warehousing services as part of support services for all modes of transport.
  4. Delivery services.
  5. Freight transport agency services.
  6. Customs brokerage services (including customs clearance services).
  7. Other services including the following activities: bill of lading inspection, freight brokerage services, cargo inspection, sampling and weighing services; goods receipt and acceptance services; and transport documentation preparation services.
  8. Wholesaling support services and retailing support services including activities being management of goods in storage, collection, sorting and classification of goods, and goods delivery.
  9. Freight transport services as part of maritime transport services.
  10. Freight transport services as part of inland waterway transport services.
  11. Freight transport services as part of rail transport services.
  12. Freight transport services as part of road transport services.
  13. Air transport services.
  14. Multimodal transport services.
  15. Technical analysis and testing services.
  16. Other transport support services.
  17. Other services provided by logistics service providers and as agreed with their clients in accordance with the basic principles of the Commercial Law.

“Delivery services” and “other transport services” are not further defined in Article 3. The lawmakers probably intended that one refer to the Vietnam Standard Industrial Classification System (VSIC), which is comparable to the United Nation’s Central Product Classification (CPC) codes used in Vietnam’s WTO Service Sector Commitments (WTOSSC) . For example, “delivery services” under VSIC 5230 include delivery of mail and parcels not covered by “freight transportation services.” VSIC 5320 is similar to WTOSSC’s “courier services” (CPC 7512), which includes “express delivery services.” There is no foreign ownership limit in Decree 163 for “delivery services,” nor for “courier services” under the WTOSSC – that’s good news for foreign courier services providers.

II. No changes to foreign ownership limitations (FOL)

WTOSSC and Decree 140 already defined FOL and their respective schedules. Decree 163 does not change anything. Decree 163 addresses FOL of various freight related services but is silent on passenger transportation services.

The below chart summarizes the main foreign ownership caps in the logistics sector. It is a simplified chart, and additional conditions apply to those business lines. Further conditions apply to foreign investors. For example, maritime freight transport companies with up to 49% foreign ownership may register ships in Vietnam and fly the Vietnamese flag, but only up to one third of the crew members may be non-Vietnamese; the captain and the first officer must be Vietnamese citizens. Like other conditions in Decree 163, this is nothing new and was already set forth in the WTOSSC.

Vietnam: Foreign Ownership Limitations (FOL) in the Logistics Sector

WTOSSC Decree 163
CPC Service Description FOL FOL
742 Storage and Warehouse 100%
748 Freight transport agency (incl. freight forwarding services) 100%
749 Bill auditing; freight brokerage; freight inspection, weighing and sampling; freight receiving and acceptance; transportation document preparation on behalf of cargo owners 99% 99%
7211 Maritime transport (Passengers; less cabotage) 49%
7212 (a) Maritime transport (Freight; less cabotage) – joint-venture fleet flying Vietnamese flag 49% 49%
7212 (b) Maritime transport (Freight; less cabotage) – foreign fleet 100% 100%
7221 Internal waterways transport (Passengers) 49%
7222 Internal waterways transport (Freight) 49% 49%
7111 Rail transport (Passengers) Unbound
7112 Rail transport (Freight) 49%
7121 + 7122 Road transport (Passengers) 49%
7123 Road transport (Freight) 51% 51%
No CPC Custom clearance 99%
No CPC Container station and depot 100%
7411 Container handling (except at airports) 50% 50%
621, 61111, 6113, 6121, 622, 631 + 632 Distribution (import/export, commission agents, wholesale, retail) 100%

III. New e-commerce provision – digitalization of logistics services

One thing that is new in Decree 163 is its express requirement to comply with Vietnam’s e-commerce regulations. Article 4.2 provides that a logistics business conducting part of or its entire business electronically over the Internet, mobile or other “open networks” must comply with e-commerce regulations. Vietnam’s main e-commerce regulation is Decree 52/2013/ND-CP. Decree 52 requires e-commerce service providers to either notify or register with the Ministry of Industry and Trade. E-commerce providers must also protect personal information and consumer interest in accordance with Decree 52 and other laws and regulations. Arguably, though, these e-commerce requirements were already applicable to logistics services that conducted e-commerce activities before Decree 163.

Article 4.2 is very broad and could obviously apply to any business communications over e-mail, messaging apps, web-conferencing, company websites, and social networking sites – just to name few. The question is whether Article 4.2 will also apply to new internal, digital enterprise processes, such as digital supply chain and smart warehousing technologies that utilize “open networks.” Vietnamese law does not define “open networks,” and various literature about the topic is inconclusive as to what it actually means. For instance, one tech article concludes that today “open network” means “user choice” – which is not very helpful from a legal perspective. If IT specialists disagree on the meaning of “open networks,” the various Vietnamese authorities involved in regulating and licensing logistics activities are likely to be confused as well and could interpret Article 4.2 in various, uncertain ways.

Bottom line: The new Decree 163 does not expand market access rights of foreign investors in Vietnam’s logistics sector, but it introduces an explicit requirement to comply with e-commerce regulations.

For more information , please contact Manfred Otto at MOtto@duanemorris.com or any other lawyer you are regularly communicating with at Duane Morris.

Disclaimer: This post has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. Each case should be analyzed individually with the support of competent legal counsel. For more information, please see the firm’s full disclaimer.

More Clarity on Foreign Investment and M&A in Logistics Companies in Vietnam

Foreign investors can now proceed with more certainty when setting up logistic companies or acquiring stakes from Vietnamese partners. Logistics is an area where discrepancies between international treaties and domestic law implementation have caused many headaches. However, Vietnam’s Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) has recently provided more clarity through a guiding regulation (Circular No. 9911/BCT-KH) and a number of official letters, including responses to the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee and the Vietnam Business Forum. At the same time, a few Japanese logistics companies have established 100% foreign-invested subsidiaries in Vietnam.

International treaties should supersede national law, and official comments from MOIT have restated that view. So, we initially refer to Vietnam’s WTO service sector commitments (WTOSSC) in most cases. Accordingly, some sectors are open to 100% foreign investment (e.g., warehousing and freight forwarding), while some still require Vietnamese equity participation (e.g., container handling).

Foreign Ownership Limitations in the Logistics Sector (WTOSSC)
CPC Service Description Max. Foreign Ownership
742 Storage and Warehouse 100%
748 Freight transport agency (incl. freight forwarding services) 100%
749 (partially) Bill auditing; freight brokerage; freight inspection, weighing and sampling; freight receiving and acceptance; transportation document preparation on behalf of cargo owners 99%
7211 Maritime transport (Passengers; less cabotage) 49%
7212 Maritime transport (Freight; less cabotage) 51%
7221 Internal waterways transport (Passengers) 49%
7222 Internal waterways transport (Freight) 49%
7111 Rail transport (Passengers) Unbound
7112 Rail transport (Freight) 49%
7121 + 7122 Road transport (Passengers) 49%
7123 Road transport (Freight) 51%
No CPC Custom clearance 99%
No CPC Container station and depot 100%
7411 Container handling (except at airports) 50%
7512 Courier (express delivery) 100%
621, 61111, 6113, 6121, 622, 631 + 632 Distribution (import/export, commission agents, wholesale, retail) 100%

As a foreign buyer in an M&A case, besides the purchases price and other conditions, we recommend to consider and differentiate between absolutely essential and optional business lines as well as the best case and acceptable levels of ownership in the target.

Yamato Logistics and Sagawa Express have established 100% foreign-invested subsidiaries in Vietnam. This is possible through strategically limiting business lines to those that are open to 100% foreign investment.

For further information, please  contact Giles Cooper (gtcooper@duanemorris.com), Manfred Otto (motto@duanemorris.com) or any other lawyer you are regularly communicating with at Duane Morris.

Vietnam – Latest on Seaports and Shipping – Logistics is Everything

With the adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) and the European Union – Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (“EVFTA”) in the upcoming months, we would expect a significant increase in trade between Vietnam and countries being members of the mentioned agreements. In order to reap the huge benefits that these agreement might bring to Vietnam, it is necessary to create an efficient deep sea container terminal. Cai Mep port would be fit for such purpose, in terms of a potential domestic and international transhipment hub and creating balance for demand and supply container terminal in Southern Vietnam. An operating cooperation contract has been signed between CMIT and Saigon Newport as the first attempt to develop Cai Mep as a hub.
Still, there should be more to do from the Government’s side. A competitive environment for the operation of the container terminal must be created. To achieve this objective, we suggest the following actions:
First, reducing port dues for certain sizes of vessels. As a consequence, a greater number of vessels will no longer have to transit via existing hubs such as Hong Kong or Singapore. An estimate of USD 7 million per year in transport costs would be saved and the overall income of the country will increase.
Second, relaxing regulations on cabotage. The current local services on offer do not comply with the required standards. This should be fixed so it is not blocking the progress of creating a hub in Cai Mep.
Third, reforming customs rules. The Vietnam General Department of Customs with the advisory support of the Vietnam Trade Facilitation Alliance in conjunction with the American Chamber of Commerce is currently making great attempts in improving imports and exports procedures. This is also considered as a step towards a competitive environment compared with other ASEAN countries.
Finally, more interaction between the competent authorities and the transport/ logistics stakeholders. The recent Transport and Logistics Partner Quarterly Meeting held by the Ministry of Transport in conjunction with the World Bank is among the government’s efforts to help create a dialogue to exchange problems and workable solutions in the logistics industry of Vietnam.
If the above suggestions are taken seriously, Cai Mep will become a hub and Vietnam would certainly enjoy lots of benefits, include, among others:
o Less pollution for Ho Chi Minh City as a result of truck flow diversion from Ho Chi Minh City to Cai Mep;
o Less traffic and less risk of port congestion thanks to large capacity in Cai Mep region; and
o Capitalizing on the opportunities from the TPP and the EVFTA.
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Please do not hesitate to contact Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com if you have any questions on the above. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

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