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However, this is no call for celebration yet. Stormy waters still lie ahead for foreign investors and domestic companies as one of these three matters may pave the way to tighter controls and stricter management over foreign capital and share transfers in domestic companies.
The relevant governing laws
The procedures for these transfers (or “acquisitions”) had been touched upon by numerous legal instruments including the Law on Enterprises, Law on Investment, Decree No. 108/2006/ND-CP and Decision No. 88/2009/QD-TTg.
However, in the past, no detailed, uniform procedures for such acquisitions have been comprehensively covered by any legal instrument. At some point in time, there existed numerous guidelines from various licensing authorities within Vietnam, thereby creating difficulties for any investors wishing to engage in these acquisitions.
The most recent Government regulation overseeing the acquisitions, Decree No. 102/2010/ND-CP (“Decree 102”), was issued with a view to regulate and offer a uniform approach to the procedures. On the face of the law, it seems to be a victory for foreign investors and domestic companies alike as an interpretation of this decree reveals an absence of any requirement on part of the domestic company to obtain an investment certificate following the acquisitions. In fact, we were recently presented with an opportunity to view official dispatches of the MPI (the “Report”), which confirmed this absence.
The reality in the application of Decree 102
However, numerous commentators have observed a potential conflict in the wording of Decree 102 and the Law on Investment. As a result of this lack of textual clarity in Decree 102, licensing authorities are, again, divided on the correct procedural requirements of carrying out the transfer. Foreign investors and domestic companies are, again, left in the dark as to what is precisely required in executing the procedures for these acquisitions.
This conflict has yet to be resolved, with different licensing authorities still continuing to act upon different interpretations of the law. For example:
· The licensing authorities in Ho Chi Minh City require domestic companies to obtain an investment certificate after the acquisition such that the company will operate under two licenses – the enterprise registration certificate and the investment certificate.
· The licensing authorities in Hanoi require all members or shareholders of the domestic company (including foreign investors) to engage in procedures to obtain an investment certificate. In doing so, the members or shareholders of the company will be granted an investment certificate while having their enterprise registration certificate revoked.
· The licensing authorities in Ba Ria–Vung Tau Province and Binh Duong Province abolish the need for an investment certificate for domestic companies altogether if the transferred capital or shares do not exceed 49% of the domestic company’s charter capital.
The basis for this requirement
In its Report, the MPI highlighted the need for an investment certificate, citing that such requirements lay consistent with international customs on selected industries such as banking, insurance and real estate. Furthermore, it will ensure that there exist a codified set of procedures which would ultimately save the day on the face issues arising through a lack of specified guidelines.
However, it is debatable that perhaps the MPI should have given further foresight in providing its reasons. Particularly, the face of the Report seemed to overlook numerous key considerations:
· First, the laws in countries of developed economies such as Singapore, Australia, USA and UK do not generally provide for any requirement to obtain an investment certificate of the kind potentially required in Vietnam.
Particularly, Singapore provides no specific provisions for foreign investors in establishing a new company or purchasing shares of a private Singaporean company.
· Second, the conformity to international customs that the MPI highlights apply to selected industries which are traditionally regulated to a high degree. Therefore, it is not necessarily appropriate to apply them universally to all industries.
· Third, it seems that the requirement does not draw advantages for the transferring parties, not the State of Vietnam. In fact, both the parties and the licensing authorities fall victim to an increased burden and administrative workload as a result of its requirement.
· Fourth, Decree 102 does not provide for this requirement so its removal will abolish any potential legal conflicts now and in the future.
What is the solution?
Without a doubt, investors aim to seek the simplest, shortest and cheapest way possible in order to carry out and maximise their investment. As such, one can only expect disappointment from foreign investors and domestic companies alike if the amendments of Decree 108/2006/ND-CP continue to implement this investment certificate requirement.
Therefore, now is a crucial time for the Government to reconsider its position, particularly given Vietnam’s national policy in promoting foreign investment into the country. Otherwise, consistency in the laws will need to be maintained in order to create a clear and systematic process for the transferring parties and licensing authorities.
At the moment, however, potential foreign investors can only wait in anticipation that the Government opts to takes one step forward in the right direction without the two steps back.
(Please note that the scope of this article covers only transfers between foreign investors and domestic companies established and operating in ordinary domains and sectors)
LNT & Partners Law Firm