Foreign investors interested in service sectors in Vietnam will first need to look at the commitments of Vietnam to the WTO on various sectors (WTO Commitments). If the relevant service falls into one of the service sectors committed in the WTO Commitments then the investors will more or less have an answer. If the relevant service does not fall into one of the service sectors committed in the WTO Commitments (Non-committed Services) then one would need to look at the relevant domestic laws to see if the market is open to foreign investors. Usually, if there is no express restriction on a Non-committed Services under domestic laws then a foreign investor should be able to invest in such sector. This position is reflected in Decree 108/2006 implementing the Investment Law.
However, in November 2012, the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) seems to take a more restrictive view when it opines on the application of a foreign investor applying for, among other things, planning services, translation services, and designing marketing materials. In particular, the MPI takes the view that because these services are Non-committed Services, Vietnam does not have the obligation to open its market for these services. While this is not an outright refusal, it appears that at least the MPI does not encourage foreign investment in Non-committed Services in this specific case. Let’s hope that this will not become a general policy of the investment licensing authorities in Vietnam.