Navigating among numerous licences and permits required by law for running a business in Vietnam has never been easy. There many reasons including:
- There is no comprehensive list of valid licences and permits available. Therefore, businesses run the risks of missing certain licences and permits. This is particular true as many authorities in Vietnam have the power to issue licences and permits;
- The time and efforts required for obtaining a licence or permit may be substantial. In practice, the authorities may not always check or enforce the required licence or permit. Therefore, the risk in practice of missing a particular licence and permit varies; and
- That being said, in theory, missing a required licence or permit may be subject to administrative penalty and, in extreme case, criminal penalty (e.g. see the case against Mr Nguyen Duc Kien).
Regarding the first point, I just come across of report on business licences and permits prepared by the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) in December 2013 (MPI List). The MPI seems to have spent substantial time and efforts verifying with all other ministries about the licences and permits issued by such other ministries. As such, the MPI List is quite comprehensive. The MPI List provides for the list of 334 licences and permits requires for various conditional business lines in Vietnam.
Therefore, a business owner may use the information in the MPI List to check if it has obtained all the licences and permits mentioned in the MPI List for its operation, if necessary.
A copy of the MPI List in Vietnamese can be downloaded here.
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.
In the latest draft amendment to the Securities Law 2006, compared with the earlier draft, the following new points , among others, are introduced :
· “Indirect ownership” of securities is defined to mean holding securities through a “related person” or an entrustment arrangement.
· The criteria of a professional investor is reduced. A company with a paid-up charter capital of VND 100 billion (about US$ 4.5 million) instead of VND 1,000 billion can now qualify as a professional investor. An individual with a portfolio of VND 2 billion (instead of a trading volume of VND 2 billion per month) or annual taxable income of VND 1 billion can now qualify as a professional investor. Qualifying as a professional investor is important since only a professional investor or a strategic investor could participate in a private placement of shares by a public company.
· Major customers or counterparties are no longer considered as a related person of a public company.
· The latest draft amendment seems to allow for issuance of shares at a price below par value if the current trading price of the issuer is lower than par value.