Vietnam investment regulations – Direct investment v.s. indirect investment

Under the Investment Law, direct investment means a form of investment whereby the investor invests its invested capital and participates in the management of the investment activity. On the other hand, indirect investment means a form of investment through the purchase of shares, share certificates, other valuable papers or a securities investment fund and through other intermediary financial institutions and whereby the investor does not participate directly in the management of the investment activity.

The confusing point here is what “participating in the management” of investment activity. If having purchased shares of a listed company in Vietnam, a foreign investor attends the shareholders meeting of such company and exercises its voting rights then arguably the investor has “participated in the management” of the company in Vietnam. A more relevant example is a foreign investor purchases a minority stake in a domestic joint stock company and nominates its personnel to hold position in the Board of Directors of such company. In such case, it is not clear if the investor could be deemed to have “participated in the management” of the company in Vietnam.

The consequences of being treated as a direct investment and an indirect investment may be material. If an investment is an indirect investment then the parties may not need to obtain an Investment Certificate and must settle the transaction in Vietnamese Dong through a VND capital contribution account.  If an investment is a direct investment then the parties may need to obtain an Investment Certificate and could settle the transaction in foreign currency.

It would have been clearer if the Investment Law replaces the concept of “participating in the management” with “control”. In such case, an investor will be deemed to make a direct investment if it has “control” of the investment activity. In other cases, the investor will be deemed to make an indirect investment. 

Vietnam Business Law Blog

In a recent post, we have discussed the concept of “wholesale” and “retail” as two forms of activities under the regulations concerning trading activities by FIEs in Vietnam. From the commercial perspective, “distribution” (phân phối) activities should involve the purchase or import of goods from suppliers for selling to customers. Thus, if an FIE has registered distribution business (i.e., wholesale or retail), it should naturally be able to import goods to sell within its distribution rights without being subject to further licensing requirements. However, this may not be justified from the legal perspective as the purchase of goods to sell in Vietnam or abroad by an FIE is classified as other forms of trading and should be licensed before implemented. Under Vietnamese regulations,

On 15 October 2018, the Government issued Decree 143/2018, which details regulation on compulsory social insurance (Social Insurance) applicable to foreign employees under the Social Insurance Law 2014. Before the issuance of Decree 143/2018, the Social Insurance Law 2014 only provides that foreign employees would be “allowed” to participate in Vietnam’s Social Insurance from 1 January 2018. For a long time, this vague regulation has given rise to concern as to whether the Social Insurance contribution for foreign employees is compulsory or voluntary. Decree 143/2018 now officially confirms that this is compulsory. In particular,

On 20 August 2018, the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT) issued Circular 21/2018 to amend and supplement some articles of Circular 47 of the MOIT dated 05 December 2014 on management of e-commerce websites (Circular 47/2014) and Circular 59 of the MOIT dated 31 December 2015 on management of e-commerce activities via applications on mobile equipment (Circular 59/2015). Below are some notable provisions of Circular 21/2018.

Set out below are some legal issues in transfer of debts (Debts) from a credit institution (Originator) to a company licensed to trade debts in Vietnam (Debt Trading Co). Debt trading between a credit institution and a credit institution is useful for the credit institution to handle its bad debts or to issue assets-backed securities:

  • Credit institutions are allowed to negotiate loan interest rates based on market demand and supply and the creditworthiness without being restricted to maximum interest rate except in some cases. Meanwhile, interest rates of loans extended by non-credit institutions are subject to the maximum interest rate of 20% per annum under the Civil Code 2015. In practice, interest rates of consumer loans are quite high and could be higher than the maximum rate of 20% per annum. If the interest rate of the Debts is higher than 20% per annum, it is not clear at law whether the Debt Trading Co, upon owning the Debt, can continuously charge such interest rate;

In September 2018, the Government issues Decree 117/2018 on protection of customers information in banking sectors replacing Decree 70/2000. Decree 117/2018 applies to confidentiality, storage and providing of information by credit institutions and foreign bank branches (collectively referred to as CI) relating to the deposit and asset of customers with the CI. The following points are notable:

·       Decree 117/2018 does not apply to, among other things, information, which is classified as State secrets and which is governed by State secrets regulations. Under the old Decision 151/2003 of the Ministry of Police, information regarding customer deposits with a CI is classified as “State secret” at secret level. It is not clear if this classification still remains valid since Decision 45/2007 of the State Bank, which is based on Decision 151/2003, does not list customer deposit information as a State secret. Decree 117/2018 does not clarify this uncertainty;

Decree 9/2018 introduces a new approach regarding trading activities of foreign invested enterprises (FIE) in Vietnam. In particular, wholesale of most goods is not subject to the requirement of Trading License (Giấy Phép Kinh Doanh). However, Decree 9/2018 is still uncertain on the category of wholesale versus retail activities. A clearer definition of these concepts is important because an FIE conducting retail activities must apply for a Trading License with the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT).

Under Decree 9/2018,

  • “wholesale” means the activities of selling goods to (a) wholesalers, (b) retailers, and (c) other traders, organizations; exclusive of retail activities;

  • “retail” means the activities of selling goods to (a) individuals, (b) households, and (c) other organizations for consumption purposes.

There are some issues arising from the above definitions under Decree 9/2018:

The Enterprise Law 2014 provides that in a meeting of the Board of a joint stock company (JSC), a Board director may authorise another person to attend if such authorisation is approved by the majority of members of the Board. However, the Enterprise Law 2014 is silent about the ability of a Board member to authorise another person to vote for such Board member if the Board decides to pass its decision by way of collecting written opinion of Board members.