Re-introducing debt-equity ratio control for foreign-invested enterprises?

Earlier this month (December 2012), the Prime Minister issued Directive 32 to various ministries to instruct the ministries to remove obstacles to increase investment efficiency.  The Prime Minister instructed the State Bank to focus on developing a mechanism to monitor the total amount of domestic and foreign loans in comparison with the total investment capital of foreign direct investment projects. It seems that the Prime Minister now wants to re-introduce debt-equity ratio control for foreign-invested enterprises. Before 2006, under the old Foreign Investment Law, a foreign invested enterprise’s owner equity must be at least 30% of the total investment capital of a project.

Vietnam Business Law Blog

A closer look at Circular 6/2019 of the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) reveals that it could create more problems than it solves. The key issue under Circular 6/2019 is the broader use of the “direct investment capital account” (normally referred to as DICA).

To understand the issue, one would need to know how DICA works. Under the foreign exchange regulations, DICA must be opened by a company in Vietnam, which has “foreign direct investment” (the FIE). Foreign investor/shareholders of an FIE will contribute capital to the FIE by transferring monies to DICA. Foreign investors/shareholders will get their monies back from Vietnam also by transferring monies from DICA to their own bank accounts (even in case the foreign investor/shareholder sells its investment to another investor). This simple arrangement works well for simple foreign direct investment activities in the 1990s where there is limited M&A activities and foreign investors are mostly foreign manufacturers who do not plan to sell their investment down the road.

On 8 July 2019, the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) expresses its view and recommendation to credit institutions in Vietnam (CIs) on peer-to-peer lending activities (P2P Lending). The SBV’s view is as follows:

·       P2P Lending is built on a digital platform which connects borrowers and lenders without having to go through financial intermediaries (such as CIs). All lending activities will be recorded on the platform.

·       The SBV acknowledges that P2P Lending is not specifically regulated by current regulations.

·       Besides its potential to create additional way to mobilize capital, P2P Lending can give rise to the following risks: (1) misleading information provided by P2P Lenders about the product’s safety, (2) the lack of oversight on P2P Lending’s platform in terms of cybersecurity, (3) P2P Lenders’ using customer information for predatory lending activities, and (4) P2P Lending being considered as activities of CI.    

Since the end of 2018, the Commission for the Management of State Capital at Enterprises (CMSC) will become the new Owner Representative Agency (Cơ quan đại diện chủ sở hữu) of 19 large SOEs including State Capital Investment Corporation (SCIC), Petro Vietnam (PVN), Vietnam Electricity (EVN), Vietnam National Petroleum Group (Petrolimex). This change causes some SOEs to have CMSC as the common Owner Representative Agency, which may cause these SOEs to become related persons according to the Enterprise Law 2014, because:

The Ministry of Finance has recently released draft amendment to the current regulations on duty-free goods under Decree 167/2016. We discussed below some proposed amendments:

·        The definition of “goods temporarily imported to Vietnam” is amended to include goods temporarily imported from “non-tariff zones and bonded warehouses”. Under existing regulations, it is not clear whether or not goods from non-tariff zones and bonded warehouses can be sold in duty-free stores.

·        Bags, packaging for the purpose of carrying duty-free goods are now also considered duty-free goods.

M&A lawyers in Vietnam usually spend a great deal of time (and client’s monies) to figure out how and when payment for an M&A transaction should be made. This is partly due to the fact that the SBV has not issued any guidance on foreign exchange control for investment activities under the Investment Law 2014 since 2015. From September 2019, hopefully, the situation will be significantly improved thanks to the new Circular 6/2019 of the SBV. Under Circular 6/2019,

·        Foreign-invested enterprises, which must open a Direct Investment Capital Account (DICA), include, among others, (1) enterprises which are incorporated by, among others, foreign investors and are issued an Investment Registration Certificate (IRC), and (2) enterprises which are first incorporated by Vietnamese investors but are later acquired by foreign investors who own 51% or more of the charter capital of such enterprises. Previously, enterprises under (2) are not required to open a DICA if they do not have an Investment Registration Certificate. However, it appears that an enterprise, which is a subsidiary of a DICA enterprise, is not required to open a DICA.

·        The DICA is used by a DICA enterprise to handle fund transfers for capital transactions such as capital contributions by shareholders/members of the DICA enterprise or loans from foreign lenders. For M&A transactions including secondary transfer of shares/capital contribution, the DICA plays an important role because the SBV requires payment for secondary transfer of capital in a DICA enterprise to be made via DICA. The bank which operates DICA could require various supporting documents in order to allow monies can be transferred in or out of the DICA.