Sub-leasing of spare office or factory space in Vietnam

It is not clear under Vietnamese law if a company may sublease its spare office or factory space without having to register for “real estate trading” and to have a minimum capital of VND 6 billion.  

  •  Article 4.2 of the Enterprise Law provides that “doing business” (kinh doanh) means the continuous conduct of one, several or all of the stages of the investment process, from production to sale of products or provision of services in the market for profits. There is no further interpretation of the term “continuous conduct”. Therefore, it is not clear if a company which enters into only one subleasing contract for its spare office or factory space could be considered as having a continuous conduct of leasing or not.

 

  • In an official letter dated August 2011, the Ministry of Planning and Investment took the view that a company subleasing its spare office or factory space is considered as providing real estate trading service and is required to register for “real estate trading” and to have a minimum capital of VND 6 billion.

 

  • On the opposite end, in November 2013, in an official letter to Long An Department of Planning and Investment, the Ministry of Construction takes the view that  a company subleasing its spare office or factory space is not considered as providing real estate trading service and is not required to register for “real estate trading” and to have a minimum capital of VND 6 billion.

It appears that the Ministry of Construction considers that entering into one sublease contract does not constitute a continuous conduct. On the other hand, the Ministry of Planning and Investment took the opposite view. The issue in question could also extend to other normal corporate activity such as intercompany lending or providing parent guarantee.

Vietnam Business Law Blog

Decree 40/2019 amending four separate decrees on environment protection takes effect from 1 July 2019. Below are some of the key amendments introduced by Decree 40/2019:

·        The term “Industrial zones” is expanded to include all kinds of zones, such as export processing zones, high-tech zones, or industrial areas.

·        “Main works or items of a project” is the main project component specified in the feasibility study of the project.

·        List of projects subject to environmental impact assessment (EIA) is adjusted. For example, investment in a golf course is now subject to EIA. Certain projects which do not have wastewater treatment work or waste treatment work are exempted from post-construction examination. Only residential projects with capacity of 2000 (instead of 500) or more inhabitants are subject to EIA. Only hotel projects with capacity of 200 rooms (instead of 50) are subject to EIA.

·        Industrial manufacturing is classified in various sectors with different level of risks to the environment. Development of manufacturing projects with very high risks to the environment is subject to consultancy with environmental experts and scientists, and appraisal of EIA reports of these projects must be conducted by an appraisal panel.

Various provisions of the Enterprise Law 2014 can now allow parties to an M&A deal in Vietnam to have more flexibility in designing a closing mechanics. In particular,

·        Multiple legal representatives In a M&A deal involving a change of control, the buyer would want to control the legal representative position on the closing date. But this involves registration with the Business Registration Authority. Many sellers are reluctant to change the legal representative position before closing without receiving payment of the purchase price.

 In the past, a company can only have one legal representative. However, under the Enterprise Law 2014, a company can have two or more legal representatives. As such, the parties can agree that the target company will have two legal representatives appointed by the seller and the buyer. The legal representative appointed by the seller will continue to run the target company up until closing and will resign on closing. The legal representative of the buyer will assume control on closing. And after closing, the target company will deregister the legal representative appointed by the seller.

Unclear definition of 51% FIE

Under Circular 6/2019, enterprises with foreign direct investment (FIEs), which must open DICA include (1) enterprises which are established by foreign investors (with or without local partners) (Incorporated FIEs); and (2) enterprises which do not fall under (1) but 51% of which are owned by foreign investors (51% FIEs). Normally, one would expect that a 51% FIE must be a FIE, 51% of which is actually owned by foreign investors (Actual 51% FIEs). However, Circular 6/2019 provides that a 51% FIE include enterprises which have foreign investors making capital contribution or purchasing shares resulting in  foreign investors’ owning 51% of the FIE. The use of the words “resulting in” suggests that a 51% FIE could be a 100% locally-owned company, which has potential foreign investors who may acquire 51% or more of its charter capital (Future 51% FIEs). 

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.

It is not clear whether voting rights of members of the Member’s Council of a Single LLC is based on (1) the amount of charter capital that such member represents, or (2) principle one person-one vote. Article 75.5 of the Enterprises 2014 provides that unless otherwise provided in the charter, each member of the Members’ Council of a Single LLC has one vote. This provision suggests that in the charter of the Single LLC, the owner of a Single LLC can allocate different voting rights to members of the Members’ Council who are usually the representatives of the owner in the Single LLC. The most common criteria is based on the amount of charter capital of the Single LLC represented by each member. The ability to allocate different voting rights to different members of a Single LLC is important since the owner of a Single LLC may have different shareholders who want to directly manage the Single LLC.