Promoting cross-border BOT partners

While build-operate-transfer transport projects are proving a moderate success, considerable controversies continue to revolve around them. Ngo Thanh Hai and Le Net, lawyers at LNT & Partners, give a thorough analysis on how attractive the investment model to foreign investors is and how Vietnam can learn experience from neighbouring countries in order to develop future successful projects.

Build-operate-transfer (BOT) investment in transport infrastructure started in Vietnam more than 20 years ago. As of 2016, 68 road traffic projects featured funding in the BOT form under the supervision of the Ministry of Transport (MoT), with total investment approximating VND208 trillion ($9.04 billion).

BOT investments, especially in transport infrastructure ventures, have contributed to the changing appearance of road traffic in Vietnam. While these projects are of only middling success, considerable problems abound. Excessive imposition of maintenance fees and unreasonable positioning of toll booths, amongst others, are major sources of conflict between users and investors.

The process destabilised the balance of the interests between the state, investors, and users. For example, the tolling policy of BOT projects has encountered fierce opposition from the public, as witnessed in BOT Ben Thuy 1 Bridge (Nghe An), Cau Rac BOT station (Ha Tinh), BOT Tan De (Thai Binh), Quan Hoa (Quang Binh) and the infamous BOT Cai Lay hotspot (Tien Giang). One thing these projects all have in common is that existing roads were renovated and some bypass routes erected, but there were relatively few new ones. Some experts maintained that BOT investment in traffic infrastructure should prioritise new road construction projects.

According to statistics issued by the Ministry of Planning and Investment, most of the current public-private partnership (PPP) projects in Vietnam selected investors via direct appointment. While public bidding is the preferred method in many countries, in Vietnam investors are often selected through direct appointment.  Investors participating in bidding when it does take place are further concerned about currency exchange, profitability, or a complicated bidding procedure.

Article 37 of Decree 63/2018/ND-CP states the selection of investor shall be carried out in accordance with the Law on Bidding. Accordingly, Article 22 of the Law on Bidding concerning direct appointments shall apply to certain cases such as urgent procurements with an aim to protecting national sovereignty, national borders, and islands. This condition is not specified in any other supporting legal documents and can thus be interpreted by the authority in different ways. The result is a reduction in competition and transparency in the selection of investors, an increase in potential wastage, and the risk of selecting substandard investors.

Another problem is that BOT projects in Vietnam, along with other PPP projects, are considered under the public procurement concept. Because of that, PPP projects involve countless bureaucracies. An example is BOT Vinh Tan 1, a $1.7 billion thermal power plant project. Its construction commenced in 2015 and was completed last year. But the project had been underway since 2007, and the negotiation process lasted from 2009 to 2012. The project also recently ran into the problem of generating excessive coal waste which has not been satisfactorily dealt with.

Another area in which the investor may face trouble is the interest of the loan, as interest rates between regulation and reality are different. According to Circular 75/2017/TT-BTC, the lending interest rate applied to the project is about 4 per cent lower than the actual lending rate of commercial banks. Specifically, the interest rate under Circular 75 is about 6.77 per cent, while the real interest rate is 10.83 per cent. This issue occurred due to the provision of Article 1 of Decree 75, in which interest rate calculated in the financial plan of PPP projects will not exceed 1.5 times the government bond interest rate.

In addition, to conduct transactions and transfer profits abroad, investors must resort to foreign currencies. However, since there is no clear commitment of the state guarantee on currency conversion, overseas investors would further refrain from BOT investment, according to Deputy Minister of Investment and Planning Vu Dai Thang.

A more effective BOT for Vietnam

The model of BOT transport projecst is crucial given the tight state budget, as numerous experts and management agencies have affirmed. The key to success lies in the ability of the state to select investors and appropriate management measures to ensure transparency and efficiency. If done well, not only will efficiency be improved and harmonisation of interests guaranteed, but much needed capital would also be attracted into different developing areas of the country.

Key success factors for PPP projects and BOT in particular are quality, time, and cost. Therefore, a PPP proposal will only be considered if there is a need for the project on the part of the government after taking into account the benefits as a whole in terms of several factors. These include socio-economic impacts; value for money and cost savings to the government; quick delivery of the project and service enhancement; and increased level of accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness.

The issues facing Vietnam were successfully dealt with in other countries many years ago. The success stories of BOT in other countries may be used as suitable benchmarks for Vietnam. For example, between 1999 and 2009 the government of South Korea offered guarantees to PPP toll road contractors under which government would, in various circumstances, make payments to the contractors if toll revenue fell below certain levels. On the other hand, the government would redeem the difference should the revenue exceed the upper limit.

This regulation may encourage private sector participation in PPPs, and BOT in particular.  However, this method may lead to higher fiscal risks for the government since it is difficult to estimate the costs and benefits.

A PPP structure applied in Malaysia (see chart).                    

The chart has shown that the PPP procedure is very simple: the competent authority is defined, the bidding procedure simple but effective.

Recommendations

Vietnam should emulate Malaysia’s simplified but effective PPP procedure. The bidding for BOT project should be transparent and must have a shortlist of three companies (for the first round) then the best among the finalists will be chosen to construct the BOT project. Lessons from the South Koreans could also be applied, so that investors could be encouraged by being guaranteed a guarantee on minimum revenue. On the other hand, the government may also retain the extras should the revenue exceed an upper limit.

To further attract international investors, the government needs to ensure that they are not prevented from exchanging their revenue into foreign currency. In addition, the government should not control the interest rate calculated in the financial plan of the PPP projects and share the interest risks with investors.

From the investors’ side, they should be contributing at least 30 per cent capital so as to secure their performance for the BOT venture. This guarantee must be sustained throughout the project. Besides, the investor must truthfully clarify the costs when bidding, with no double counting or bidding with false valuations (see graphic).

However, to make a transparent and simplified procedure it is of utmost importance to have a third independent auditor evaluate the budget of the project, so as to forecast the minimum revenue, or to cross-check with the budget proposed by the investor.

The audit should be conducted throughout the life-cycle of the BOT project – at the feasibility study stage, during construction, and at the time of completion, as well as regular audits during operation.

Readiness of Vietnamese labour force to CPTPP

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is expected to have significant effects on the Vietnamese labour market in the months to come. Nguyen Thi Huong, lawyer at LNT & Partners – Leading Law Firm 2014 by Legal500 Asia Pacific – provide deep analysis into the issue, given a possible new investment inflow from member countries.

Vietnam is considered to be one of the attractive consumer markets in the region to investors from the agreement’s (CPTPP) member nations thanks to a population of about 100 million people, with 60 per cent of the young labour force, and increasing incomes.

Commitments in the CPTPP are at the core of reducing tariff barriers, implementing the principle of equality and freedom in trade, ensuring free movement of goods, services, capital and technology, facilitating trade and investment, and creating new opportunities for employees.

According to information from the World Trade Organisation, there are nearly 1,800 Japanese enterprises producing and doing business in Vietnam. This estimate continues to increase at a time when Vietnam has started to implement the CPTPP. Similarly, with trade promotion and also considering Canada as an important partner in the North American continent, Vietnam also expects a new wave of investment from Canada.

Investors from Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia have had a tradition of investing in Vietnam before, and as the CPTPP takes effect, capital from these investors will continue to pour into the country. With investment commitments and opening up stronger service markets, the CPTPP will boost investment flows from countries with little investment in Vietnam currently, such as New Zealand, Mexico, and Chile.

The agreement will bring new employment opportunities for Vietnamese labours too. On the other hand, the labour faces tough challenges as the CPTPP regulations take hold.

On the state management side, on January 20 the government issued Decision 121/QD-TTg approving the plan for implementing the CPTPP.

Accordingly, for commitments in labour, ministries and committees are providing training to officials of the state management agency regarding specific commitments involved in the CPTPP, ensuring that they understand correctly and thereby helping to enforce the agreement fully and effectively.

The legal system will be improved to adjust labour relations and labour standards in accordance with international standards, commitments and conventions. Furthermore, the Labour Code 2012 will be modified in accordance with the roadmap stipulated in the CPTPP.

Opportunities and challenges ahead

Based on the latest data of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs’ (MoLISA) on the Vietnamese labour market, half of the labour force takes up jobs in agriculture. The number of labourers with diplomas and certificates only account for roughly one-fifth among the labour force. This means that the majority of Vietnam’s workforce is made up of unskilled workers.

Labour standards will be required to be higher due to equality legislation being one of the factors in implementing equality in trade.

By participating in the CPTPP, Vietnam has agreed to follow the commitments covered in Chapter 19 regarding labour. The agreement includes two requirements for the labour market; one involves the labour standards referred to the ILO issued in 1998, and the other one is on acceptable conditions of work.

The CPTPP contains specific requirements on labour rights and work conditions to ensure that the free flow of trade will contribute to sustainable development, and enable workers and businesses to enjoy their fair share of economic gains, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Vietnam, as a member of the ILO, is bound to respect ILO standards, stipulated in the three core conventions related to the freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and the elimination of forced labour, child labour, and labour discrimination. However, Vietnam has yet to ratify the three core conventions. Since Chapter 19 on labour in the CPTTP is mainly based on the 1998 ILO Declaration, Vietnam is obliged to review and reform its law to adapt the new labour rights of employees.

Also, for the secondary requirements regarding acceptable conditions of work, Vietnam shall have to raise its current working standards for labourers. While this improvement of standards will help better protect labourers, it also leads to a rise in costs.

Low labour cost has always been one of the key factors that attracts FDI flow coming into Vietnam, as overseas investors still target labour-intensive industries that use unskilled workers at cheap cost. However, having to abide the CPTPP’s labour commitments, Vietnam will have to consequently raise its minimum wage, thus resulting in a race to the bottom in wages to attract foreign businesses. In order to preserve Vietnam’s position as a manufacturing hub, a shift in demand from unskilled workers to more qualified ones is inevitable.

For low-qualified workers, jobs that require unskilled employees or other entry-level jobs might be cut off significantly. Low-qualified workers have no choice but to either improve their skills, or remain out of the workforce.

For workers with skills, their situation is likely to remain unchanged with or without the labour commitments of Vietnam in the new agreement. This is because skilled workers are paid based on their working performance, unlike their low-skilled counterparts who have to rely on minimum wage.

Recruiting trends

As analysed above, commitments on labour in the CPTPP are equivocal and not quite open for foreign labour. Therefore, there is not much difference in the recruiting trend of international enterprises in Vietnam. With white-collar workers, enterprise shall recruit based on proficiency and talent of employees as usual.           

On the other hand, it is a matter of fact that there may be a slight increase in demand of blue-collar workers. In particular, the CPTPP creates tax incentives in the form of exemptions or reductions among members, which encourages a huge amount of foreign products to be imported into Vietnam, encouraging more foreign investors to head to Vietnam for the purpose of production or branch establishment. For the long term, regardless of the development in technology and science, overseas enterprises may recruit more workers than ever before.

Table: Some main indicators of the economy and labour market

Source: GSO (2016, 2017), Quarterly Labor-Employment Survey and Statistical Data.

GSO (2017), Report on Socio-economic Status quarter 3, 2017.(*) all-year data; (**) data of the first 6 months; (***) data of the first 9 months.

[1] Including: primary level, secondary level, college level, university level and higher

By Vo Phuong Thao & Tran Hoang My, LNT&Partners

Managing the Relationship with Special Managers

Successful cooperation between a special manager and an acquirer requires the involved parties to know, name and manage this relationship.

A “special manager”

A “special manager” in this article means a key manager who formerly founded/ owned a company and, after selling most or all of their shares in the company, is retained by the buyer to continue working there as a key manager for an agreed period of time.

Warren Buffet once said, “You can’t make a good deal with a bad person”. Yet ironically, it is also often difficult for “too good” persons to make a good deal with each other, and this precisely describes the relationship between the acquirer and the special manager(s) they retain for the acquired business. The manager cannot be a “bad” person, at least in terms of talent, since they have built up a company successful enough to attract the acquirer. Similarly, neither can the acquirer be considered a “bad person” in that they have chosen to not only acquire the manager’s company but also to retain the manager for cooperation.

A special manager is special not only because of their talents, but also because of their legal status. Before selling their shares in their own company, they are the owner – employer. Subsequently, after selling the said shares, they may be perceived as being employed by the very company which they no longer own. The nature of the legal status would be more difficult to define if the manager sold only part of their shares, and stayed at the company – which they now co-owned with the acquirer – as a minority shareholder and concurrently its manager. The circumstance is too special that it is almost impossible to decidedly label the manager as an employee or not of the company.

But successful cooperation between the special manager and the acquirer requires the involved parties to know, name and manage this relationship.

What legal shirt should the relationship between a special manager and an acquirer be dressed in?

Basically there are two designs that a special manager could wear: an employment relationship shirt which is manifested as an employment agreement, or a service supplier shirt manifested as a management service agreement. In the former, the special manager is an employee, while in the latter, a service supplier. The laws of Vietnam permit the parties to freely decide which legal shirt they would like to put on.

For the manager, the role “employee” is self-explanatorily contrary to “employer”, and thus it would seemingly be more desirable for them to wear the shirt of a service supplier. In reality, however, most would prefer to choose an employment agreement, not a service agreement, to be the legal instrument governing their relationship with the company. Why then?

What’s in it for the special manager to be positioned as an “employee”?

Wearing the “employee” shirt may not sound desirable by name, but it brings an abundance of benefits and protection if the special manager works in Vietnam. If defined as “employment” the relationship will be governed exclusively by the laws of Vietnam, particularly by Vietnamese labor regulations which are infamous for their employee-friendly reputation, and further protected by the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts, not arbitration.

Being an employee means the special manager will have access to the full social welfare benefit package, which consists of, for instance, annual paid leave, maternity leave (of 6 months), payment of social insurance and so on.

On the other hand, sanctioning an employee for breach of the employment agreement is required to undergo a tightly regulated procedure, often with the participation of employee-protecting agencies such as the trade union and the conciliation organ. Provisions on confidentiality and non-competition are fairly difficult to enforce because, inter alia, these terms may be deemed a violation of the employee’s freedom to choose their job and workplace. Should termination be the employer’s final recourse, termination of an employment contract, especially those with employees of high seniority, is often difficult if not impossible. By contrast, from where the special manager stands, unilateral termination is just a matter of prior notice.

What’s in it for the acquirer if the special manager wears the “service supplier” shirt?

It would be easier for the acquirer to manage the relation if the parties can agree that the special manager would wear the “service supplier” shirt. The legal relationship would now be governed by commercial, not labor, law, and can even be made subject to a foreign jurisdiction; employee related benefits can be cut; confidentiality and non-competition provisions should be contractually binding and enforceable; and termination of the relationship is to be freely agreed by and subject to negotiation between the contracting parties without interference from pro-employee regulations.

Is a win-win possible?

In many cases, the acquirer needs the special manager so much that the former must agree for the latter to wear the “employee” legal shirt. In such a case, how should the conflicting needs be balanced so as to bring about a win-win for both parties?

First, agreement on termination of the relationship should be set out in a separate agreement, with effective conditions and timing to be controlled by the acquirer. In addition, the managerial title of the special manager should be forested out not in the labor contract but in a separate appointment which can be revoked by the company.

Second, agreements on confidentiality and non-competition should in similar veins be set out in a separate agreement to be governed like any other civil transactions. This would pave the way for the argument that these agreements are not part and parcel of any labor contract but should be treated as independent agreements subject to the same legal regime and having the same enforceability as any other civil agreement.

Last, but of course not least, is to build up a cooperative, win-win culture for the relationship. As discussed thus far, the relationship between an acquirer and a special manager is neither purely of an employment nor a service supplier-recipient nature. In such a special relationship, in addition to trust and respect, it is the clarity on how the parties are to exercise their agreed respective powers, how they are to cooperate for their mutual benefits and terminate their relationship as agreed, that will be the most enforceable and efficient tool for making a good deal between “too good” persons.

By Mr. Bui Ngoc Hong – Partner, LNT & Partners

This article is featured in Asian-mena Counsel M&A Special Report.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For legal advice, please contact our Partners.

NEW VIETNAM REGULATION ON WIND POWER PROJECT– WELCOMING BUT STILL ROOM FOR IMROVEMENTS

Circular 02/2019/TT-BCT is the latest and most comprehensive regulation on wind power project development in Vietnam. Dr. Le Net, Mr. Le Thanh Hieu and Ms. Vo Phuong Thao, lawyers at LNT & Partners provide their analysis of the changes, specifically whether the changes made by Circular 02 will be sufficient to tackle market criticisms of past regulations and attract further investments in Vietnam’s wind energy market.

Vietnam has a golden combination for developing wind power projects. The country has a booming economy which fuels increasingly higher energy demand. It also has vast geographic advantages, with over 3.000 Km2 of coastline, a high yearly average windspeed of 6m/s, with some region reaching 8-9m/s a year.

Yet by June 2018, Vietnam only had 7 functional wind energy projects with total capacity of 190 MW, falling far short of the Country’s maximum potential. It is submitted that the three barriers to wind power projects in Vietnam, especially larger-scale projects are (1) overcapacity of electricity lines in key regions such as Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan, (2) low power buying price affecting the financial viability of the projects, especially in comparison with other countries in the region, and (3) international non-bankability of the mandatory Model Power Purchase Agreement (Model PPA).

The Ministry of Industry and Trade aims to rectify these issues and attracted further investments with Circular 02/2019/TT-BCT (“Circular 02”) which entered into effect from 28 February 2019. Circular 02 is the latest regulation on the implementation and development of wind power project in Vietnam, replacing both Circular 32/2012/TT-BCT and Circular 06/2013/TT-BTC, previously the key Vietnamese regulations in this industry.

Under Section 3 Article 4 of Circular 02, The Ministry of Industry and Trade (“MOIT”) will firstly review the application for supplementation of wind power projects to the power development planning scheme. This review will be conducted after consultation with relevant Ministries and Sectors. After reviewing, the MOIT will send an official dispatch to the Provincial People’s Committee to request the Provincial People’s C­­­­ommittee to make necessary revisions and submit a complete application. The complete application will be appraised by the Electricity and Renewable Energy Authority, who will then subsequently submit documentation to the Minister of Industry and Trade for a final review of the Project.

The new procedure for supplementing wind power projects can be summarized as follows:

Figure 1. Procedure for supplementing wind power projects pursuant to Decree 02/2019/TT-BCT
(Source: Self-synthesis)

Additionally, the mandatory contents of the feasibility study report on wind power project have also been clearly set out.

Besides from the more detailed procedure, some key changes regarding the requirements and conditions for the operation of wind power projects are also include in Circular 02. Notably, this Circular no longer requires signing of the connection agreement as a perquisite condition to the construction of the wind power project. Instead, the condition for construction of wind power projects under Circular 02 only includes (1) the approval of application for the construction design and environmental, (2) the PPA and (3) financing documents, as conditions to the construction of the wind power project. In addition, productivity of wind farm (which shall not be lower than 90% in the expired Circular) is no longer the compulsory requirement under Circular 02. 

In exchange, some conditions have been tightened, that is land area for used is now limited to 0.35 ha/MW, which is remarkably lower than the previous threshold allowed by the expired Circular (0.5 ha/MW).

The procedural framework under Circular 02 has the advantage of being highly detailed, is much more specific and is in line with other sets of law (i.e. Law on Planning and Law on Investment). This should appeal to Investors, who are likely to appreciate the increased procedural clarity. 

Additionally, one of the main reasons slowing the growth of wind power projects in Vietnam is the overcapacity of electricity lines in key regions such as Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan. Thus, Circular 02 no longer requires the signing of the connection agreement as a perquisite condition to the construction of the wind power project. In addition, the Government has recently approved MOIT’s proposal to speed up development of electricity line and power stations projects in key areas such as Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan to release capacity of replaceable energy projects by 2020. It is believed that these measures will increase the speed by which wind power projects are approved and implemented.

Regarding the buying price, the power purchase price from wind power project under Circular 02 is 8.5 Uscents/kWh for onshore wind power projects and 9.6 Uscents/kWh for offshore projects. Circular 02 therefore maintained the same price under the recently enacted Decision No. 39/2018/QD-TTg. This buying price is still relatively low when compared to countries in the region such as Thailand (up to 20 Uscents/kWh) or Philippines (up to 29 cents/kWh).

Nevertheless, evidence shows that the pricing under Decision No. 39 and now Circular 02 have positively affected the market. In late January, early February 2019, the MOIT reported receiving at least 3 Project Supplementation Requests with over 1.000 MW in total planned capacity, notably the USA- Bac Lieu wind farm project with proposed capacity of 608 MW. Also, on 27 March 2018, the Enterprise Energy Group EE announced a $11.9 billion Ke Ga offshore wind farm with a total capacity of 3,400 megawatts (MW). The detailed proposal was already submitted to the MOIT and the project is estimated to start launching by the end of 2022.     

Finally, Circular 02 stipulated a substantially revised model Power Purchase Agreement (Model PPA). The PPA is a crucial to the bankability any power Project. The terms of the PPA are amongst the most crucial concerns of international lenders, as the PPA is the key document for securing payment streams for projects. Under Circular 02, use of the Model PPA is still mandatory required, and parties are still forbidden from making revisions which are contrary to the provisions of the Model PPA.

Previously, the Model PPA under Circular 32/2012/TT-BTC was widely accepted to be non-bankable internationally. Specifically, the Model PPA under Circular 32/2012/TT-BTC was was heavily criticised as failing to adequately allocate dispatch risk by not imposing a take-or-pay provision on the Purchaser. This risk arises most crucially where the purchaser cannot receive power due to a breakdown in the electricity grid, in which case the purchaser would not be bound to make payment.

Other key issues affecting the international bankability of the Model PPA under Circular 32 include (1) lack of protection for projects in the event that EVN, who is the sole purchaser under the PPA, terminates the agreement; (2) lack of provisions allocating politics-related force majeure events; (3) no freedom to choose dispute resolution method; and (4) Vietnamese law being the mandatory applicable law.

Representative of Thuan Binh Wind Power JSC., which owns Phu Lac wind farm, shared that the company currently has four wind power projects in operation. However, deadlocks have put three of them on hold, as one project does not have access to the national power grid resulting in ineffective operation, one project is financially foreclosed by lenders, and one project is in dispute between investor and contractor. Only Phu Lac project is in operation.

Meanwhile, wind power companies also have problems with guarantee mechanism. “Foreign organizations are willing to lend us, but requires a domestic bank to guarantee the loan, which means we have to pay the cost. This is extremely difficult for the wind power project which has to save every single dollar”- said Thuan Binh JSC’s representative.

The Model PPA under Circular 02 has not made any attempts to rectify these criticisms. Specifically, the new Model PPA still fails to (1) adequately allocate dispatch risk, still (2) lack any outstanding debt settlement mechanisms in events of termination by EVN; (3) it is still impossible to choose arbitration as the dispute resolution method; (4) and Vietnamese law is still mandatory governing law. It is therefore predicted that Circular 02 of Model PPA will still unlikely to be internationally bankable, unless some kind of guarantee mechanisms are in place, which can be difficult and costly to acquire.

In conclusion, the changes brought about by Circular 02 were generally positive. We especially welcome the new procedural framework and lessening burden on implementation of wind energy power project. Nevertheless, it cannot be understated that Circular 02 did not adequately deal with non-bankability of Model PPA, which we believe is a critical issue. Circular 02 alone is therefore an inadequate measure for wind energy project development in Vietnam to truly take off. However, when adding the efforts of the Government and EVN to construct more electricity transmission lines and power stations, and the reaction of Investors to the increased pricing, we believe that it is possible to expect that 2019 will be a year of positive developments in the wind power project industry.

By Dr Net Le, Mr Le Thanh Hieu, Ms Vo Phuong Thao – LNT & Partners

This article is featured in the April issue of the Vietnam Investment Review.

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For legal advice, please contact our Partners.

Recent changes regarding trading rights of Foreign Invested Enterprises

IC_ClientAlert_Affecting-Business-in-Vietnam-300x190.jpg

During the past eleven years, Decree 23/2007/ND-CP dated 12 February 2007 (“Decree 23”) has been found to be a barrier to the trading activities of foreign investors in the Vietnam market, especially in the retail industry.

Recently, the Vietnamese government has decided to replace Decree 23 with Decree 09/2018/ND-CP dated 15 January 2018 (“Decree 09”) which has brought significant changes, specifically eliminating a number of restrictions previously contained in Decree 23. Nevertheless, Decree 09’s scope of application has been extended to some other business sectors.

Specifying and expanding entities affected

Unlike under Decree 23, where the scope of application was amorphous because the authorities had ample opportunity to use their own discretion in its application (any foreign invested enterprise (“FIE”) regardless of foreign owned capital ratio or investment structure would have to comply), Decree 09 has provided clear instructions on the subject of application, including: (i) legal entities with direct investment from foreign investors, regardless of capital ratio; (ii) entities having at least 51% of their charter capital owned by other FIEs in which  foreign investors directly holds 51% or more of its charter capital, or a partnership that has a majority of partners who are foreign individuals.

Once the scope of application is defined, entities that want to be involved in the following trading activities would have to obtain a Business License, also known as Trading License for: (i) retail sale of goods; (ii) import and wholesale of lubricant products (oils and greases); (iii) logistics services, excluding those for which Vietnam has committed to open the market in international treaties (of which Vietnam is a member); (iv) goods leasing activities, excluding finance leasing and leasing construction equipment with operator; (v) trade promotion activities, excluding advertising; (vi) commercial intermediary activities; (vii) e-commerce services; and (viii) services for arranging tenders/bids for goods and services.

It appears that Decree 09 has extended the scope of application to other business sectors which were not previously governed under Decree 23, such as: goods leasing activities, e-commerce services and services for arranging tenders/bids for goods and services. Providers of the mentioned services are now required to obtain a Trading License, which requires approval from the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT). This new requirement may affect the operations of many e-commerce platform services which are currently operating in Vietnam.

Barrier on trading rights is lifted

Despite the fact that the scope of Decree 09’s application has been extended to additional sectors, Decree 09 is welcomed for the removal of the requirement for a Trading License for the export, import, and wholesale distribution of many types of goods. In particular, only FIEs involved in the trading of lubricant products (i.e., oils and greases) are required to obtain a Trading License for import and wholesale.

As a result, beginning on January 15, 2018, FIEs are only required to add “import, export and wholesale distribution” functions to their IRCs and ERCs in order to conduct such business. Trading Licenses will not be required for FIEs as they were before for the same trading activities. However, FIEs of the same but wish to carry out retail distribution will have to follow the same license requirements under Decree 23.

FIEs involved in wholesale distribution have taken the removal of such requirements as excellent news. There is no longer a waiting period for a Trading License before shipping different products[1] and no more HS Code on items to be imported, with many more opportunities in the future.

Retail Outlet License and Economic Needs Test (“ENT”)

Each and every FIE who wishes to open any retail outlet, even the first one, have to obtain a Trading License and Retail Outlet License.

The economic needs test (ENT) required under Decree 23 is still applied for the second outlets and those after (Additional Retail Outlet) which: (i) have areas from 500 square meters; or (ii) are established outside shopping malls; or (iii) are categorized as minimarts or convenience store. This means investors in those cases will need to pass the ENT and obtain a Trading License and appropriate Retail Outlet License for each outlet to be established inside Vietnam.

Important highlights for owners of franchises

Decree 09 provides clearly that any outlet established under the same name or same trademark with another retail outlet in Vietnam owned by any other FIEs shall be treated as an Additional Retail Outlet and need Retail Outlet License for operation. As a result, the franchising model which is currently used by some giant retail chains or chain stores might have to pass ENT to obtain relevant Retail Outlet License.

The People’s Committee at the province level would be the authority that would consider whether an outlet passes an ENT or not. This means that for such outlets, the establishment application must be approved by the People’s Committee at the province level and the MOIT.

HS Codes in the Trading License

Another interesting point under Decree 09, which is critical to all importers, is the new template for Trading Licenses and Retail Outlet Licenses. According to the new template and guidance provided under the Decree 09, HS Code might not be included in the Licenses while previously it was clearly required in the template of the same. It means that the names of the trading products will be listed in the Licenses while the HS Code of the products might be no longer referred to in the Licenses.

During the past eleven years since the enactment of Decree 23, the HS Code has been an important factor slowing down the investment process due to the complexity caused by these codes (e.g., discrepancy in HS codes referred to for imported items between IRC, Trading License and documents prepared for customs clearance, lengthy codes in the IRCs of FIEs, different import duties to be applied, and many other issues). However, its removal at the beginning stage of the new Decree may also cause difficulties for FIEs because Customs and other authorities might challenge FIEs on their trading rights.

Listing the names of the goods might not be as convenient and accurate as using the HS Code. Even the DOIT has not reached consensus as to how to name the goods in the Trading License. The interpretation of it, unfortunately, is subject to the sole discretion of the DOIT, especially the officer in charge. As a consequence, this can cause inaccuracies. Take the example of a FIE that trades facial brushes. These brushes belong to HS Code 9603, which is described as “Brooms, brushes (including brushes constituting parts of machines, appliances or vehicles), hand-operated mechanical floor sweepers, not motorised, mops and feather dusters; prepared knots and tufts for broom or brush making; paint pads and rollers; squeegees (other than roller squeegees)”. If the officer in charge does not understand the business of the FIE, he/she might put the name of the goods as “brooms” instead of “brushes”. However, because the FIE sells brushes, not brooms, another relevant authority may challenge the FIE for not having the proper Trading License. The FIE might then have to apply to amend its Trading License to be in line with its actual business.

Therefore, at present, FIEs should be careful and clearly describe their goods when applying for Trading Licenses. More detailed guidance from the relevant authorities is essential to avoid problems regarding this advanced and evolving regulation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Decree 09 does provide a better legal framework to resolve the ambiguous procedures for foreign investors and FIEs pertaining to trading and trade-related activities under Decree 23. However, as this Decree has just been issued, there might be challenges for both FIEs and licensing authorities to fully understand and implement in practice.

[1] Under Decree 23, Trading Licenses provide a list of products under their HS Code which are allowed to be imported into Vietnam for wholesale or retail distribution. If the entities wish to add new products to the list, the Trading License needs to be updated and the MoIT’s approval is required.

By Ms. Hoang Nguyen Ha Quyen – Partner, LNT & Partners

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For legal advice, please contact our Partners.

Understanding “Business Transfer”

Business transfer as a structuring tool — when, how and what to note.

When investing in a business in Vietnam, an investor may prefer to cherry-pick a specific part of the business rather than buying the entire company. In such cases, an asset acquisition may be the best choice — however, in special situations where a share transaction is more appropriate, the transaction needs to be structured as a share acquisition and accordingly a “business transfer” needs to be used.

A business transfer usually covers the transfer of the targeted business to a newly incorporated company (NewCo), so that NewCo will be transferred to the buyer. The transfer generally includes assets, employees, licences and on-going contracts.

Typically, a business transfer can be conducted via two steps.

  • Step 1: the seller establishes NewCo and transfers the targeted business to NewCo
  • Step 2: the buyer acquires share capital to own Newco, thus owning the targeted business

Although there can be some variations, the whole transaction can generally be illustrated as seen in the chart.

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Business transfer — an efficient tool for investment
Why and when should investors use business transfer for their investment? By purpose, business transfer helps the buyer to cherry-pick only the asset they wish to acquire. Meanwhile, by nature, business transfer is a means to conduct the contemplated transaction by way of a share acquisition. The hybrid nature of business transfer brings all the pros and cons of an asset deal and a share deal, which makes it a useful structuring tool when a deal needs to take advantage of both asset deal and share deal structures.

Usually, business transfer should be a preferred tool to structure a deal when one or more of the following come into play:

  1. the targeted business is only part of a larger business that the buyer wouldn’t want to acquire entirely;
  2. the company originally owning the targeted business may raise concerns for the buyer about accumulated liabilities that may remain hidden or unacceptable to the buyer;
  3. the licences for engaging in the targeted business are under the name of a company, and accordingly the acquisition transaction must be in the form of a share acquisition deal, not an asset deal; or
  4. it isn’t justifiable for the purchase price to structure the deal purely as an asset acquisition deal, meanwhile a share acquisition deal can help make the purchase price justifiable.

Generally, a transaction by way of business transfer is often more complicated than a purely asset deal or purely share deal. However, when the above listed items become relevant concerns, business transfer may be a preferred solution. Knowing how to use business transfer is therefore necessary.

Some key points to note when consider whether or not to use business transfer
The first point to consider is the transferability of each asset comprising the targeted business. Under Vietnamese law, the transferability of some assets can be conditional or subject to permission or consent by the government or by a third party. For example, land use rights may be restricted from transferring; some licences are granted to a legal entity on the ground of some conditions which may not be met by Newco; some contracts are transferable only upon consent by third party. Transferability, depending on the particular asset, could be decisive when considering whether to use business transfer.

The second point to consider is whether or not the operation of the business to be transferred can be maintained uninterrupted. Transferring an on-going business can be like trying to dismantle and re-assemble the parts of a running engine. In this regard, transfer of existing contracts should be handled carefully.

The third point to consider is the time to be spent for conducting a business transfer. Depending on the specific business component to be transferred, the business transfer process could take a long time to complete. Typically, business transfer of the targeted licences or the like can be very time-consuming and may mean that the business transfer structure is undesirable.

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The fourth point to consider is the possibility and arrangements for the potential buyer to control the business being transferred, so that any liabilities newly incurred are monitored and subject to being approved or otherwise controlled by the potential buyer. This control is very important in many aspects, especially to ensure that the objects being transferred comprise only those that are targeted, and any liabilities incurred during the time when the business transfer is conducted are accepted by the potential buyer.

The last key point to consider is the tax perspective. For example, if the company with the targeted business is incurring substantial losses that could be deducted by the buyer, or it currently enjoys a special tax incentive that is no longer obtainable by a company newly incorporated like NewCo, it could become undesirable to use business transfer. Further, tax arising from the acquisition transaction could be a concern as well. That is, in case the company owned by the seller’s sole business is the one to be transferred; accordingly, after the business is transferred, the transferring company will be liquidated. In this case, the seller may be subject to both corporate gains tax (on the purchase price) and individual gains tax (to the shareholder, if the shareholder is an individual), and may find business transfer undesirable.

Some technicalities to help investors conduct a business transfer
Conducting due diligence (DD)
When it turns out that a business transfer is to be used, the DD should focus on only the targeted business, which is to be reflected in a checklist. Accordingly, the existing company’s liabilities which shall not be the subject of the business transferred can be excluded from the DD scope.

In conducting the DD, the transferability — legal and practical — of each item of the targeted business should be verified. When transferability of an item in the targeted business is conditional, eg subject to another party’s consent, obtainment of such consent should be raised for possible solution. When re-issuance of some licences for continuing the targeted business require NewCo to meet some conditions, it should be confirmed that NewCo can meet the respective conditions.

Conducting the business transfer
The parties need to agree on how to implement the business transfer. The buyer needs to have the business transfer conducted so that all the targeted business is transferred properly. In case any desired assets are not transferred, that has to be taken into account, eg for possible price adjustment. Any liabilities incurred to NewCo should be monitored and controlled by the buyer.

Preparing transactional documents

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With the investigation results from the DD, transactional documents will be prepared. These may include memoranda of understanding (MOU), master agreement, shareholders’ agreements and other agreements to implement the business transfer and to realise the contemplated transaction.

In an acquisition transaction that involves the use of business transfer, a master agreement should be deployed. The master agreement sets out the terms to conduct the deal, and especially the business transfer — by using many affiliate agreements. Examples of these affiliate agreements include real estate transfer agreement, intellectual property transfer agreement, assignment agreements for each on-going commercial contract and employment contracts such as termination minutes, and new employment agreements.

Special transaction terms: In addition to the standard terms, a transaction involving the use of business transfer may require the transactional documents to take into account the following:

  • The status and performance of the business to be acquired should be detailed. A list of assets, detailing tangible and intangible ones, commercial contracts, liabilities, employees, etc, with detailed status should be annexed to the purchase agreement.
  • Agreement on how the business transfer should be conducted should be set out. As mentioned, a deal using business transfer involves establishment of NewCo, transferring the targeted business from the selling company to NewCo. Accordingly, the method of transfer, the transfer procedures, the record of acquired assets to the NewCo’s accounting system need to be anticipated and agreed beforehand by the parties.
  • The buyer’s right to manage, monitor and check the status of business transfer should be set out. Frequently, the business keeps running during the transfer process and the acquisition. New inventories may be acquired, and new sale contracts and purchase contracts may be concluded. These events may affect receivables and payables of the targeted business. Transactional documents should provide appropriate mechanism to deal with those scenarios. The agreement may set certain rules applicable to the seller in operating NewCo, for example, (i) list of action requiring the buyer’s consent (eg change of NewCo’s charter capital, business lines, loan obtainment, change of management structure, etc); (ii) list of transactions to which NewCo being a contracting parties require the buyer’s consent (which can base on criteria of value or nature of transactions); (iii) agreement between the seller and the buyer so that persons appointed by the buyer will hold some managerial position in NewCo even before the closing.
  • As to purchase price, the transactional document should include a mechanism to evaluate the targeted business at the closing, with the applicable accounting standard rules to apply.
  • And, similar to any M&A deal, the transactional documents should record detailed arrangements on how the buyer can take over the business, including conducting necessary registration procedure, appointment of key managerial positions, decision-making rules, etc.

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Some points to note in conducting the transfer of the targeted business

  • Asset transfer: In Vietnam, some types of assets require ownership registration, such as real estate, ships, vehicles, etc. When dealing with transferring these types of assets, it should be clear who is responsible for the registration.
  • Commercial contracts: Transfer of existing contracts to NewCo requires the consent of the contract counterparty. Negotiating a new agreement may result in the loss of attractive terms.
  • For supply contracts and customer contracts: there can be two options, signing new ones or having contracts assigned. In any case, the parties should agree on which obligation to be transferred, how to deal with payables and receivables, and whether NewCo or the buyer shall absorb such rights and obligations.
  • For lease agreement, deposit should be a concern. In practice, the lessor normally does not want to return the deposit. Therefore, the transferor and the transferee to the lease must agree on how to deal with such amount, eg whether this amount should be added to the purchase price.
  • Employment transfer: Basically, for conducting employment transfer, the selling company shall reach agreement with the employees to terminate the employment relationship, and at the same time, NewCo shall enter into new employment contracts with the employees. A note from practice is the termination agreement should include all severance payment amounts payable to the employees. Also, the selling company should have a good filing system to keep all relevant documents recording the fulfilment of its relevant obligations, including confirmation of employees on receiving the payment, no claims declaration.
  • Sublicences: Except for certain sublicences attached to assets and being confirmed transferable, NewCo/the seller needs to reobtain all required sublicences before starting running the business. In Vietnam practice, obtaining sublicences can be very time-consuming. This should be taken into account to avoid the situation where the company has to open without the required licences.

In summary, business transfer can help buyers to cherry-pick desirable assets, avoid liabilities and, when needed, make the purchase price justifiable. Offering all the advantages of both asset deal and share deal structures, a transaction by way of business transfer is often more complicated than a purely asset deal or purely share deal. When business transfer has to be deployed to get a deal through, nevertheless, the deal should be conducted with care, including utilisation of the dos and don’ts for a hybrid of share deal and asset deal, in an on-going business.

By Mr. Bui Ngoc Hong – Partner, LNT & Partners

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For more information, please contact us at info@LNTpartners.com or visit the website: Http://LNTpartners.com

FIEs will have greater rights to import drugs into Vietnam

According to Decree No. 54/2017/ND-CP (the “New Decree”) guiding Pharmaceutical Law 2016 which took effect 1 July 2017, foreign pharmaceutical investors are allowed to import and sell drugs to local partners in Vietnam. This new regulation creates an excellent opportunity for foreign investors interested in Vietnam’s pharmaceutical market. 

Article 24 of Decree 79/2006/ND-CP guiding Pharmaceutical Law 2005 limited the right to import drugs to manufacturers and local partners (“LPs”):

“1. Drug-producing or wholesaling enterprises which have certificates of full satisfaction of drug business conditions and have drug warehouses up to good practice standards on drug preservation shall be permitted to import drugs according to the provisions of law on pharmacy, regulations of the Health Ministry, and relevant legal provisions.”

However, this restriction was removed when Pharmaceutical Law 2016 was issued and took effect on 1 January 2017 because the New Decree guiding this law specifies the importation right is now expanded to foreign invested enterprises (“FIEs”).

Article 33.1(b) of Pharmaceutical Law 2016 states a drug business establishment can import drugs if it has the following: a physical premises; a GSP warehouse for drug storage; storage equipment; vehicles to transport drugs; quality control systems; technical documents; and personnel that fulfill Good Storage Practice requirements.

Article 44.1(d) of Pharmaceutical Law 2016 and Article 91.10 of the New Decree provide that FIEs will have the right to import and sell drugs to local partners for distribution. Article 91.12 also states that FIEs that want to import and sell drugs to LPs must register their LPs with the Ministry of Health (“MOH”) before they begin selling, as well as when they terminate their contracts with the LPs. The MOH will publish the list of LPs eligible to purchase imported products from FIEs on the MOH’s website within three working days.

The New Decree’s regulations were promulgated pursuant to Vietnam’s WTO commitments and other treaties, such as the EU – Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (“EVFTA”). Specifically, Paragraph 1 of Article 14 EVFTA (Trading Rights) states that:

“1. Vietnam shall adopt and maintain in force appropriate legal instruments allowing foreign pharmaceutical companies to establish foreign-invested enterprises in order to perform importation of pharmaceuticals [emphasis added], which duly got the marketing authorization from Vietnam’s authority.”

All of this bodes well for Vietnam’s pharmaceutical sector. Vietnam’s pharmaceutical sector has shown high growth rates over the last few years. For instance, the value of imported pharmaceutical products in the first nine months of 2016 reached USD 1.9 billion, up 16.44% from the same period in 2015. FIEs are responsible for an estimated 15% of domestic pharmacy production[1]. These figures prove that Vietnam’s pharmaceutical business has potential market space for FIEs to take advantage of.

With the passing of new laws in a dynamic country of nearly 90 million citizens, Vietnam promises to be a fertile pharmaceutical market for FIEs’ investment.

By Net Le & Hai Ngo, LNT & Partners

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For more information, please contact us at info@LNTpartners.com or visit the website: Http://LNTpartners.com

[1] Source: http://viracresearch.com/vi/standardreport/vietnam-pharmaceutical-comprehensive-report-q12017/

A bold move by the Vietnamese Government in the field of solar power projects

The development of the power sector, while prioritizing the production of renewable energy sources, forms a crucial part of Vietnam’s National Power Development Plan. On the 11th of April 2017, the Vietnamese Prime Minister, by issuing Decision 11/2017/QD-TTg on the mechanism for encouraging the development of solar energy in Vietnam (“Decision 11”), formalized some of these objectives.

Solar power as a primary focus of the Vietnamese Government

Unlike other alternatives to fossil fuels, solar power is a type of renewable energy that is encouraged by the Government.

The development of alternative sources of energy first began with the National Master Plan for Power Development in 2011 when the Prime Minister issued Decision 1208/QD-TTg. With the implementation of Decision 11, solar energy has gradually become a priority among power sources.

Decision 11 provides regulations for solar power projects, including rooftop projects and grid-connected projects. Rooftop projects are solar power projects that have their solar panels mounted on the rooftop or integrated into the construction of a building. Rooftop projects are connected directly to the buyer’s power grid. Grid-connected projects are those solar power projects, other than rooftop projects, connected to either the national power grid or the buyer’s power grid.  Under Decision 11, only grid-connected projects must conform to the National Development Plan for Solar Power or to the Provincial Development Plan for Solar Power. The Ministry of Industry and Trade (the “MOIT”) develops the National Development Plan, and the Prime Minister approves it. On the other hand, the provincial-level People’s Committee establishes the Provincial Solar Power Development Plan, and the MOIT approves it. This is one of the first steps to prepare and implement a Solar Power project. The detailed procedure is described in a flowchart presented at the end of this article.

Decision 11 provides an important incentive to encourage the development of solar power projects. Decision 11 mandates that Vietnam Electricity (EVN) and its authorized subsidiaries must buy all the electricity produced by every Vietnamese solar power project. Furthermore, Decision 11 also puts forth some important provisions regarding the price of electricity. Decision 11 fixes the purchasing price at US$ 00.0935/kWh, equivalent to VND 2.086/kWh for grid-connected projects. This price was set according to the exchange rate between VND and USD announced by the State Bank of Vietnam on the 10th of April 2017. The MOIT will determine the price to sell electricity for each power purchase agreement based on the present exchange rate. With respect to rooftop projects, projects must be implemented using net-metering with two-way electricity meters. In a trading cycle, if the amount of electricity generated from rooftop projects is greater than the consumed amount, the surplus will be carried forward to the next trading cycle. Every year, the MOIT will announce prices for electricity produced by rooftop solar power for the following year based on the exchange rate on the last day of the year.

According to Decision 2256/QD-BCT (dated 12 March 2015) of the MOIT, EVN’s average electricity selling price was US$ 00.0714/kWh, equivalent to VND 1.622/kWh. Therefore, the price provided by Decision 11 is significantly higher.

In addition, Decision 11 also states that the MOIT will provide a template for power purchasing agreements. Those agreements will be limited to twenty years, but could be extended.

Other incentives to be clarified

Decision 11 also encourages the development of solar power projects by providing attractive incentives. Those incentives are related to: capital mobilization; import duties; the corporate income tax (“CIT”); and land acquisition and rent. However, most of these incentives are too general and should be clarified. This lack of clarity can be seen when examining each incentive individually.

First, regarding capital mobilization, Decision 11 merely states that organizations and individuals involved in the development of solar power projects may raise domestic and foreign capital to carry out solar power projects in accordance with effective law.

Second, regarding import duties, Decision 11 provides that with respect to goods imported as fixed assets, solar power projects are exempted from import duties. Besides that, with respect to other materials, components, and semi-finished products that cannot be manufactured domestically, the import duty incentives for solar power projects must be determined in accordance with the present provisions in the Law on Import and Export Duties.

Third, regarding CIT, Decision 11 provides that the CIT exemptions and reductions granted to solar power projects shall be the same as those granted to projects eligible for investment incentives in accordance with effective regulations.

Fourth, regarding land incentives, grid-connected solar power projects, transmission lines, and substations shall be eligible for exemptions from, or reductions on, land levies, land rents, and water surface rents. Those exemptions or reductions shall be in accordance with current regulations on investment incentives. Depending on plans approved by the competent authorities, the People’s Committees of the provinces shall facilitate land arrangements for investors to execute solar power projects. Provision of compensation and site clearance shall be carried out in accordance with effective land regulations.

Therefore, because most of Decision 11’s incentives refer to other laws and specific incentives are not mentioned, the above-mentioned solar power project incentives remain unclear.

In addition, Decision 11 produces a conflict in the use of terms used by previous laws and regulations dealing with investment incentives.  In fact, while Decision 2068/QD-TTg approving the development strategy of renewable energy stated that renewable energy includes solar energy, and Decree 118/2015/ND-CP on Guidelines for some articles of the Law on Investment (“Decree 118”) classifies solar power projects as a business line eligible for special investment incentives (rather than a business line eligible for investment incentives), Decision 11 considers solar energy projects as a business line eligible only for investment incentives. Thus, Decision 11 may limit the chances for solar energy projects to benefit from the incentives applied to business lines eligible for special investment incentives. For example, under Decree 118, if the solar power project is treated as a business line eligible for investment incentives, the investor is entitled to only a 25% reduction of the security deposit required for project implementation. However, if the solar power project is treated as a business line eligible for special investment incentives, the investor may be entitled to a 50% reduction of the security deposit required for project implementation.

The MOIT has drafted a circular related to the development of solar power projects. However, the draft circular does not clarify the incentives, including investment incentives.

Conclusion

Decision 11 is an innovative move by the Vietnamese Government to help it meet its international obligations under the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Vietnam’s issuance of this decision demonstrates Vietnam’s intention to develop its economy without compromising environmental protection. However, while Decision 11 is a big step in the right direction, some of its important provisions, especially regarding investment incentives, need to be further clarified (or even modified) in order to remove any sources of confusion or disincentives. Otherwise, Decision 11 might only be a symbolic gesture without real effect.

Process flowchart for the implementation of a solar power project

By Net Le, Thu Nguyen and Cuong Le, LNT & Partners

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For more information, please contact us at info@LNTpartners.com or visit the website: Http://LNTpartners.com

New banking and loan security regulations in Vietnam

Real estate projects generally demand a large amount of capital from investors, especially for housing projects. The majority of housing projects are implemented in urban areas, where land use taxes and site clearance expenses are extremely high. Thus, financing is considered the most important factor in the development and operation of real estate projects.

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In Vietnam, there are two mechanisms to finance real estate projects: mortgages and the sale of off-the-plan houses to customers. However, both options pose risks that investors, banks, and buyers are rightfully concerned about, especially in a country where the regulating legal system is not well-developed. Those risks became very real during the financial crisis earlier this decade, followed by the freezing of the real estate market. That freezing could be attributed to the dysfunction in the legal system for financing real estate projects. The laws and regulations have since been upgraded to eliminate that Achilles’s heel, but the implementation of such provisions is still proving challenging.

Mortgage of housing construction projects

A housing construction project can be wholly or partly mortgaged if the following documents are provided: the approved project’s documents and technical designs, and the certificates or decisions on land assignment and land leases from authorities. An investor can also mortgage off-the-plan residences in his/her project if the foundations of the residences have been completed and have not been previously mortgaged by the investor. Depending on their capital requirements, investors can choose the most appropriate option to finance their projects.

Investors do not necessarily need a Certificate of land use rights and ownership of houses and other land-attached assets (the “Certificate”) to mortgage their investment projects. Nevertheless, this is where potential risks appear. The laws and regulations do not provide any mechanism for banks to protect their rights in case the State recovers the land from the investors.  Pursuant to the Land Law 2014, the competent authority may seize the land if the land user fails to fulfill its financial obligations with the State. If that occurs, even if the banks take the secured assets to make up for the loan, there is not much to take because the land, which is the most crucial asset to a housing project, was already seized by the Government.

Mortgage of future acquired assets on land

The investor can also mortgage off-the-plan residences in his or her project. Circular 26 requires the mortgagor of the future acquired properties to register the mortgage at the competent authority (land registration offices and their branches). However, in order to register the mortgage, the dossier must include a Certificate. Therefore, the investor must complete all the financial obligations regarding the land. That includes paying site clearance expenses, as well as making rent payments and paying registration fees. After meeting those obligations, the investor is able to mortgage the off-the-plan residences for a loan.

Recently, some provincial Departments of Natural Resources and Environment have published lists of mortgaged real estate projects registered in their localities. These actions are motivated by The Harmony residence’s incident, where nearly 600 people are at risk of losing their apartments, because the investor has mortgaged all the land and the future acquired assets on land since 2012. In 2016, only after the bank announced its intention to seize the residence for recovery of the investor’s loan, was the truth revealed to the residents.

Currently, in order to protect the consumers, lists of mortgaged projects are being announced by the authorities. Only projects which have been granted Certificates may register their mortgages, which led to the announcement of mortgaged projects. However, from the perspective of the investors affected, the announcement of their mortgaged projects could adversely impact potential sales because the projects have to be free of the mortgages (or parts of the mortgage) before selling any off-the-plan residences.

There are two disadvantages for investors if they choose to mortgage off-the-plan residences. The first one is that they need to obtain a Certificate, which means they have already spent a large amount of money for site clearance and land rental. The second disadvantage is the public announcement of mortgaged projects, which could make customers hesitant to purchase units. Based on these factors, investors tend to choose the first mechanism (mortgaging the housing project or a part of the project for a loan). In fact, only 10% of projects in large cities such as Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City are registered for mortgages at the authority. For example, in Ho Chi Minh City in 2016, only seventy-seven of 600 projects had their mortgages registered. The majority of housing projects must be de facto financed from banks’ loans with secured properties. Therefore, the remaining projects are likely to have mortgages over their construction projects, but not over land use rights, or future acquired assets on land. Accordingly, the investors were not required to register the secured transactions.

Bank guarantee

Article 55 of the Law on Real Property Trading stipulates that investors, in order to sell off- the-plan houses to buyers, must obtain guarantees by commercial banks in case the investors fail to transfer the buildings on schedule as committed. Article 55 creates two issues:

  • For residential megaprojects, there is a question as to which bank will make the guarantee. For example, Royal City, a VinGroup real estate project in Hanoi, has a total investment capital of 18,000 billion VND, equivalent to 700 million US dollars. That amount surpasses the charter capital of thirty of thirty-three banks listed by the State Bank of Vietnam which are eligible to provide bank guarantees for housing construction projects;
  • The banks will only issue guarantees if the investors have assets with sufficient value to secure their obligations. The investors that already spent millions of dollars on construction may not be able to meet those requirements.

Due to the above obstacles, there are those who would rather violate the laws and run away with the consumers’ money when the project is not feasible anymore. In the end, the consumers are the ones who suffer.

Conclusion

Real estate project finance is a complex legal field that needs to be more fully developed, even though Vietnamese legislators and executive bodies have already made great efforts to do so. Sometimes, the law benefits investors, but creates great risks for banks and customers. And sometimes the exact opposite is true. Finally, some legal requirements appear impossible to meet, creating pressure to meet them through inappropriate responses, such as violating the law.

By Quang Le and Kim-Cuong Le, LNT & Partners

Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only. Its contents do not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as detailed advice in individual cases. For more information, please contact us at info@LNTpartners.com or visit the website: Http://LNTpartners.com

Legal Update on Real Estate Law in Quarter 1 of 2017

Change in Land Rental in Economic Zones

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The Government has recently issued Decree No. 35/2017/NĐ-CP dated 3 April 2017 providing regulations on collection of land use fee, rental of land surface and water surface in economic zones and hi-tech parks (Decree 35).

As from 20 June 2017, the collection of land use fee and land rental in economic zones shall be no longer governed by Decree No.45/2014/ND-CP providing regulations on collection of land use fee (Decree 45) and Decree No. 46/2014/ND-CP providing regulations on collection of rental of land surface and water surface (Decree 46) but in accordance with Decree 35 with the highlighted points for the investors as follows:

  • The percentage for calculating land rent unit price in case of annual payment shall be from 0.5% to 3% subject to specific area or route corresponding to the investment and publicly announced annually.
  • The land rental is determined with land price adjustment coefficients. Subject to the specific area, route and location of the land corresponding to the land use purpose, the Provincial People’s Committee shall issue the land price adjustment coefficients annually with the minimum rate at 1.0 applicable from 1 January each year.
  • The land use for development of social housing for employees in accordance with approved projects shall be subject to land use fee exemption. The developer must conduct the administrative procedure for the exemption in this regard.

Land price adjustment coefficients applicable from 1st January 2017 in Ho Chi Minh City

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On 23 March 2017, the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh City has just issued Decision No. 19/2017/QD-UBND providing the land price correction coefficient applied in 2017 in Ho Chi Minh City (Decision 19). The outstanding application for determining the land use fee or land rental in Ho Chi Minh City from 1 January 2017 shall be subject to the regulations of Decision 19.

The coefficients are applied for determining (i) the annual land rental for the first period; (ii) the adjustment to unit price of annual land rental for the following period and (iii) the unit price for annual land rental in case of acquiring the assets attached to land shall be from 1.0 to 2.0. In which, the land used for development of residential housing for leasing shall be subject to the maximum coefficient of 2.0 corresponding to the location of the project.

The coefficients applied for determining (i) the land use fee without land use right auction or in case of conversion of land use purpose, (ii) the one-off payment of land rental without land use right auction and (iii) the unit price of land rental in case of changing from leasing with annual rental to leasing with one-off payment for land rental shall be from 1.2 to 2.0 subject to the location of the project.

The land price adjustment coefficients mentioned above can be higher subject to the location with more than two (02) road fronts and the land use ratio.

The Ministry of Construction requesting the issuance of regulations on the condotel and officetel

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“Condotel” and “Officetel” have been new types of real estate development in Ho Chi Minh City since 2008.  In recent years, these kinds of real estate developments become more popular in the real estate market, particularly condotel type is more applied in coastal and tourist cities like Nha Trang, Da Nang, or Vung Tau. However, despite its popularity and more transactions on the properties, regulations or guidance from the competent authorities on the investment and management of the condotel and officetel are still unclear and confusing, and therefore potentially risky to the buyers as well.

For example, the concept of “officetel” describes apartments in residential buildings which may be used for both residential and office purpose. However, the Law on Residential Housing as well as guidance from the Ministry of Construction prohibits using residential apartments for office use. Furthermore, the guidance from the Ministry of Planning and Investment does not allow using residential apartments for business registration either.  Another legal issue to these kinds of properties is how to properly recognize the ownership to the properties because, in the Land Law, land use right duration for commercial purpose is 50 years and indefinite term for residential purpose.

Recently, the Ministry of Construction has given instructions and responses that (i) the regulations on condominiums are applied for the condotel/officetel with function as residential housing and (ii) the regulations on hotel are applied for the condotel/officetel without function as residential housing. This is actually confusing to the owners as well.

Therefore, the Ministry of Construction (MoC) recently had Dispatch No.381/BXD-QLN dated 28 April 2017 for report and proposal of the issues in relation to the management of condotel, officetel, or  resort projects to the competent Deputy Prime Minister for decision.

In which, MoC proposed (i) the amendment to law on land with respect to the classification and the usage of mixed use land (for both residential and commercial purposes) and issuance of the certificate of land use right, ownership of residential housing and other assets attached to land in this regard and (ii) clarification of the financial obligation for such mixed use land and (iii) the regulations on the management of the condotel and officetel.

The issuance of regulations in respect of condotel and officetel mentioned above will provide detailed legal framework for the development and management of condotel and officetel projects. Accordingly, (i) the investors will have firm legal basis for development and management of condotel and offictel and (ii) the buyers will have basis for considering their investment in the business model of condotel and officetel.

New model real estate business – Hometel

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Besides the officetel and office which become popular in real estate market, “hometel” is a new concept of tourism real estate just launched in the beginning of 2017. Hometel is the combination of “home” and “hotel” function.  Similar to condotel, hometel is fitted out and operated with the luxury standards as hotel under the management of a hotel operator.

However, hometel has some features different from condotel, typically (i) the homebuyers shall have an indefinite-term ownership of hometel with the certificate of land use right, ownership of residential housing and other assets attached to land and (ii) the homebuyers can decide the leasing program of the hometel without sharing profit with the developer, it means that the homebuyers will directly deal with the hotel operator for the operation and maintenance of standard of the hometel as hotel.

From legal perspective, (i) hometel must be constructed on residential land for the indefinite-term ownership; (ii) the development of hometel project must be in accordance with Law on Residential Housing because hometel is classified as residential housing and (iii) the construction of hometel must be in accordance with regulations on construction of residential housing under Law on Construction.

The management and operation of hometel is not clear to be treated as a condominium or not. As a residential housing, the hometel should be managed as a condominium with the organization of the Management Committee as required by laws.

However, the hometel must be operated and maintained with hotel standard which must be managed by a hotel operator. In case the management of hometel must be in accordance with regulations on management of condominium, the Management Committee must deal with the hotel operator for ensuring the standards applied to the hometel buiding as a hotel.

In addition, there should be amendments to Law on Land in relation to the classification of the land on which the hometel project located. Similar to the land used for developing condotel project, the land in this regard should be residential land without establishment of residential area.

As such, due to lack of legal grounds for such properties, the owners’ use right and ownership rights over these properties may be potentially restricted (for example, in terms of use duration or use functions).  This cannot be resolved in near future since amendments to several laws are required as well.

Disclaimer: This legal update does not constitute and should not be taken as a legal advice for a matter. For more information and clarification, please contact Mr. Tran Thai Binh, Partner of LNT & Partners, Head of Real Estate Practice Group via email: binh.tran@LNTpartners.com or his cell phone: 84-913629191.

CONFLICTS OF REGULATION RELATED TO SIGNATURES IN SALE INVOICES BETWEEN THE LAWS AND COMMERCIAL PRACTICES

 “Having signature on the commercial invoice in respect of imported goods” is not a new requirement in the importation and custom clearance procedures. However, this requirement has caused difficulties to importers when they import goods in practice, as there are still a number of discrepancies between the laws of Vietnam and international practices, without any remedy.

From the legal perspective, the requirements of the Ministry of Finance and Vietnamese Customs Authorities are base on Decree 51/2010/ND-CP, which stipulates that invoices must present signatures of the seller, seal of the buyer (if any), and signatures of the buyer. The entities who must comply with Decree 51/2010 are Vietnamese organizations, individuals who are selling goods, providing services in Vietnam’s territory or abroad; organizations, individuals imported goods in the local market regardless of producers or suppliers being Vietnamese or foreign organizations or individuals under Circular 64/2015/TTLT- BTC- BCT- BCA- BQP “With regard to goods sold or stored by entities other than importers, it is required to have invoices and/or documents of the selling entities as prescribed in Decree No. 51/2010/ND-CP.”

From the practical perspective, this regulation embarks a conflict with the common practice of making invoices by European countries in which all invoices are formed, retrieved electronically and without sellers’ signatures and seals in every single invoice. Annually, an automobile manufacturer can sell hundred thousands of products per year, the signing in each invoice is a hand work which makes time-squandering, human resource and increasing expenses. However, in order to complete the import procedure, enterprise must seek for ways to convince the manufacturers to provide their signature on invoices. This step has caused a lot of difficulties to enterprises because it is too hard for the manufacturers to change their goods trading management method contrary to the ordinary method in their home country. As a result, the completion of custom clearance of enterprises is often delayed for months from the scheduled business plan, which causes a lost in term of in business opportunity and cost burden to enterprises. In addition, the fact that the requirement on provision of invoice is still retained which is not caught up with the principle of Article 3.6(b) of Resolution 30c/NQ-CP enhancing the “application of information – telecommunication technology in the process of handling of works of administrative authorities, among administrative authorities and within transactions with organizations and individuals”.

With the understanding of these international practices, World Customs Organization (WCO) recommends its members not to have sellers sign commercial invoices when conducting the customs declaration, in particularly:

RECOMMENDATION OF THE CUSTOMS CO-OPERATION COUNCIL
CONCERNING CUSTOMS REQUIREMENTS
REGARDING COMMERCIAL INVOICES
(16th MAY 1979)

RECOMMENDS that Members of the Council and members of the United Nations Organization or its specialized agencies, and Customs or Economic Unions, should :

  1. refrain from requiring a signature, for Customs purposes, on commercial invoices presented in support of a Goods declaration;[1]

Vietnam Customs authorities has been a member of WCO as of 01 July 1993 and entered into Kyoto Convention on the Simplification and Harmonization of Customs Procedures. After many renovations to adapt WCO’s objectives and policies, Vietnam Customs procedures have been modernized and reduced significantly yet not abrogated the requirements on signatures affixed to invoices due to existing “barriers” in Decree 51.

The main purpose for presentation of commercial invoices in customs procedures is to make a basis for determining customs values of the goods, goods origin and tax amounts imposed on goods at the time of import. In the Internet age, the authenticity of invoices can be checked by various methods. Therefore, we should learn a feasible way of other countries to check manufacturers’ database to conclude the accuracy of total value of goods rather than request them to sign in each of invoices. Customs Authorities can request the manufacture to send the detailed information of imported goods for checking, or confirm the accuracy and completeness of such invoices. From the author’s perspective, by taking advantage of the internet tool, the checking and verifying the accuracy of commercial bills will easier and more efficient.

 Author: Nguyen Thi Chau Thanh – LNT & Partners

 

 

[1] http://www.wcoomd.org/en/about-us/legal-instruments/recommendations/pf_recommendations/pfrecomm45customsrequircommertinvoice.aspx

High hopes for Vietnam’s capital markets in 2017

Vietnam is hoping the combination of a relaxation of foreign investment rules, for, stock exchange growth, a push for state-owned enterprises (SOE) equitisation and a gradual opening of bond markets will help its economy to grow this year. Asialaw spoke to lawyers in the jurisdiction to get a glimpse into the latest changes and expected trends in the capital markets for 2017.

Encouraging foreign investment

One of the major changes to encourage foreign investment in Vietnam is that certain industries including, securities firms, were opened up to 100% foreign holding in 2016.

 
 Le Net

“With the removal on foreign ownership cap at 49%, those needing capital to grow will be able to,” says Le Net, partner at LNT & Partners. “PE [private equity] and M&A interest have been coming from Thailand, Japan, China, Korea and Indonesia,”

 “There are other 18 sectors including transportation, construction and real estate where offshore investors can take a degree of ownership subject to certain conditions,” says Dang The Duc, managing partner at Indochine Counsel. “The increase of foreign ownership will create positive sentiment for the investors, enhancing stock market liquidity and M&A activities in Vietnam, especially for big companies with the aim to increase their market share.”

Growth of stock exchanges

Vietnam’s benchmark VN Index (VNI) has been one of the fastest growing markets in Southeast Asia so far this year. “VNI has gotten a new peak in 2016,” says Duc. “The Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange (HOSE) is expected to break into the top five biggest stock markets in the region by 2020, with market capitalisation of 60% of the country’s GDP and average daily trading value at $250 million. However, there were still some garbage stocks which were margin forced to sell in 2016 that were harmful to the quality of stock market.”

Dang The Duc

“Hanoi Stock Exchange (HNX) has developed the action plans for sorting stocks on the unlisted public company market (UPCoM), including selection of the best stocks break down by criteria such as size of the business, production and business situation – financial, situation governance, liquidity, etc., to put on the UPCoM premium list which is aimed towards adoption of open policy for good business groups,” adds Duc.

A merger of the HNX and HOSE, which was first announced in 2012, is expected to be completed by early 2017.

State owned enterprises equitisation

To support the development of the unlisted public company market, the Vietnamese government has put together a series of policies targeting divestment of SOEs associated with registration and listing on the stock market. It is mandatory for an equitised SOE to list the company’s shares on the stock exchange after one year, if it satisfies the listing criteria.

After the equitisation of SOEs, there will be an increased scale of listed enterprises registered for trading in the near future.

The deadline for divestment of state economic groups and state corporations from non-core sectors expired on December 31. “However, just over one-third of total investment capital were completed,” says Duc. “Therefore, the stock market will receive a boost from the country’s efforts to accelerate share sales in SOEs.”

Debt capital markets poised for growth

The trading volume in the Vietnam bond market reached $40.13 billion in the first half of 2016, an increase of 4.7% compared to 2015. Of that, 98% were government bond sales, which amounted to 22% of total GDP and is expected to increase to 40% by 2020. At $5.7 billion in 2015, the corporate bond market in Vietnam is still relatively small. “However, this is expected to grow as Vietnam plans to open its first corporate bond trading platform in early 2017 as it expects a rise in issuances of company debt,” says Duc. “The SSC has been actively implementing the corporate bond scheme to make the local corporate bond market work next year.”

“The bonds market has been nascent,” says Le. “There hasn’t been many corporate bonds since the companies have to be profitable and they need to be able to show investors that they can pay interest. Many newly established companies aren’t ready yet.”

Strengthening regulations

A number of rules have been amended to strengthen regulation around the banking and securities sector. Circular No. 07/2016/TT-BTC of the Ministry of Finance was issued in 2016 to amend 43 of the securities lending restrictions such that securities companies cannot use money and property of the company or the customer to ensure payment obligations for third parties by the securities companies.

“The government will continue restructuring banking sector, owing to the high level of bad debts, to reduce the number of local commercial banks by 2020, but these efforts will make only gradual headway,” says Duc.

The Ministry of Planning and Investment has drafted a banking restructuring plan for the 2016-2020 to:

  • continue reducing non-performing loans sustainably;
  • reduce numbers of illiquid banks;
  • reduce the lending interest rate to 5%; and
  • ensure 70% of commercial banks comply with Basel II, the second of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision’s recommendations to set minimum capital requirements for financial institutions by 2020.

With the combination of the stock exchanges, opening up of the derivatives and bonds markets and encouragement for foreign investment, the increased availability of products and liquidity for capital markets in the emerging markets of Vietnam pose a world of opportunity for investors, both domestic and abroad.

Source: Asialaw

DEVELOPMENTS IN ARBITRATION IN VIET NAM

Hôm nay,  7/12/2016, Tiến sĩ Lê Nết  tham dự buổi Hội thảo “Managing International Arbitration with a South East Asian Dimension: A Masterclass for Arbitration” được tổ chức ở Singapore. Tại đây, Tiến sĩ Lê Nết  đại diện cho Trung tâm trọng tài quốc tế Viêt Nam (VIAC) trình bày về “Development in arbitration in Vietnam”.

Dưới đây là bản tóm tắt nội dung phần diễn thuyết của Tiến sĩ Lê Nết bằng tiếng Việt. Bạn đọc click link để theo dõi.

Development-in-arbitration

Luật sửa đổi, bổ sung danh mục ngành, nghề đầu tư kinh doanh có điều kiện của Luật đầu tư 2014

Trong Hội thảo “Sự thay đổi của pháp luật đầu tư kinh doanh – AmCham” ngày 30/11/2016 vừa qua, Tiến sĩ Lê Nết đã có bài trình bày rất sinh động về “Luật sửa đổi, bổ sung danh mục ngành, nghề đầu tư kinh doanh có điều kiện của Luật đầu tư 2014”. 

Nếu bỏ lỡ cơ hội tham dự buổi hội thảo vừa rồi, bạn đọc hãy click link để xem văn bản tóm tắt  phần trình bày của Tiến sĩ Lê Nết.

Conditional businesses _30112016

Sổ tay Luật sư – Chương 6: Tư vấn lĩnh vực xây dựng

Chương 6 của Sổ tay luật sư trình bày một số vấn đề pháp lý cơ bản liên quan đến việc tư vấn trong lĩnh vực xây dựng, bao gồm (i)  hợp đồng xây dựng, (ii) các rủi ro chính phát sinh trong quá trình xây dựng, (iii) quy định về hợp đồng xây dựng theo luật Việt Nam và theo FIDIC, và (iv) Giá hợp đồng xây dựng, phương thức thanh toán và hồ sơ thanh toán.

Tại chương này, một số quy định của pháp luật đã hết hiệu lực chẳng hạn như Luật Xây dựng 2003, Luật Đấu thầu 2005, Nghị định 48/2010, Nghị định 99/2007 được viện dẫn để đối chiếu với những thay đổi so với các quy định hiện tại, đặc biệt là Nghị định 37/2015 và Thông tư 09/2016 hoặc được viện dẫn để làm rõ lý do cho những thay đổi trong pháp luật hiện tại.

Phương pháp luận chủ yếu được trình bày xuyên suốt tại Chương 6 này là (i) trình bày vấn đề cần đề cập; (ii) phân tích và đánh giá; (iii) đưa ra các kết luận và kiến nghị cần thiết. Tuy nhiên tại một số tiểu mục do tính chất đặc thù, phương pháp luận này sẽ không được trình bày rõ ràng như vậy hoặc được lược bớt những phần không quan trọng.

Để đọc nội dung chi tiết của chương 6, vui lòng click link bên dưới:

Link Chuong 6: Tu van linh vuc xay dung

Luật sư Lê Nết

LNT & Partners

#LNT #vietnam #law

Một số bình luận về 10 án lệ được công bố bởi Hội động Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao

Ngày 06 tháng 04 năm 2016, Hội đồng Thẩm phán Toà án nhân dân tối cao đã thông qua 06 án lệ và được công bố theo Quyết định số 220/QĐ-CA ngày 06 tháng 4 năm 2016 của Chánh án Tòa án nhân dân tối cao:

  1. Án lệ số 01/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 04/2014/HS-GĐT ngày 16/04/2014 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án “Giết người” (Án Lệ 01);
  2. Án lệ số 02/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 27/2010/DS-GĐT ngày 08-7-2010 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án “Tranh chấp đòi lại tài sản” (Án Lệ 02);
  3. Án lệ số 03/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 208/2013/DS-GĐT ngày 03-5-2013 của Tòa dân sự Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án “Ly hôn” (Án Lệ 03);
  4. Án lệ số 04/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 04/2010/QĐ-HĐTP ngày 03-3-2010 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án “Tranh chấp hợp đồng chuyển nhượng quyền sử dụng đất” (Án Lệ 04);
  5. Án lệ số 05/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 39/2014/DS-GĐT ngày 09-10-2014 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án “Tranh chấp di sản thừa kế” (Án Lệ 05);
  6. Án lệ số 06/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 100/2013/GĐT-DS ngày 12-8-2013 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án “Tranh chấp thừa kế” (Án Lệ 06);

def

Các án lệ được Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao thông qua ngày 17 tháng 10 năm 2016 và được công bố theo Quyết định số 698/QĐ-CA ngày 17 tháng 10 năm 2016 của Chánh án Tòa án nhân dân tối cao:

  1. Án lệ số 07/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 126/2013/DS-GĐT ngày 23-9-2013 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án dân sự “Tranh chấp quyền sở hữu, sử dụng nhà” (Án Lệ 07);
  2. Án lệ số 08/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 12/2013/KDTM-GĐT ngày 16-5-2013 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án kinh doanh thương mại “Tranh chấp về hợp đồng tín dụng” (Án Lệ 08);
  3. Án lệ số 09/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 07/2013/KDTM-GĐT ngày 15-3-2013 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án kinh doanh thương mại “Tranh chấp về hợp đồng mua bán hàng hóa”(Án Lệ 09);
  4. Án lệ số 10/2016/AL được xây dựng trên cơ sở Quyết định giám đốc thẩm số 08/2014/HC-GĐT ngày 19-8-2014 của Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tòa án nhân dân tối cao về vụ án hành chính “Khiếu kiện Quyết định bồi thường, hỗ trợ và tái định cư khi nhà nước thu hồi đất” (Án Lệ 10).

Để tìm hiểu chi tiết từng án lệ, các bạn độc giả hãy click link bên dưới:

Một số bình luận về 10 án lệ được công bố bởi Hội đồng Thẩm phán Tóa án nhân dân tối cao

IFLR 1000 – Vietnam chapter

“Although Vietnam’s capital market has established more than 20 years ago, the participation of Vietnam-based law firms in the markets, both locally and internationally, is still rare.”

Dr. Net Le, Partner of LNT & Partners, has shared his opinion about current landscape for capital markets and project finance in Vietnam on IFLR 1000, Edition 2017.

If you want to learn more about the structure as well as the future of capital markets and project finance in Vietnam, please click on link below to see full article.

Link: Vietnam capital market & project finance: Its structure and future

ĐỐI TƯỢNG BẢO HỘ SÁNG CHẾ MỚI THEO TPP VÀ TÁC ĐỘNG ĐẾN THỊ TRƯỜNG DƯỢC PHẨM TẠI VIỆT NAM

Tóm lược

Pháp luật sở hữu trí tuệ, bên cạnh vai trò là ngành luật bảo vệ quyền tài sản của các chủ thể, còn đóng vai trò quan trọng đối với sự tiến bộ về khoa học công nghệ của mỗi quốc gia, do đó, bất kỳ sự thay đổi nào trong pháp luật về sở hữu trí tuệ đều có thể dẫn đến những tác động mạnh mẽ đến tiến trình phát triển của nền kinh tế. Trong bối cảnh các cam kết về bảo hộ sáng chế ở mức độ cao trong Hiệp định TPP có khả năng sẽ được thi hành, Việt Nam cần chuẩn bị những biện pháp nhằm giảm thiểu những tác động tiêu cực đến ngành công nghiệp dược phẩm trong nước. Bản tham luận này đề cập đến những khó khăn và thách thức mà ngành công nghiệp dược phẩm sẽ phải đối mặt khi Việt Nam mở rộng đối tượng bảo hộ sáng chế theo cam kết trong TPP, cụ thể là thực hiện bảo hộ cách sử dụng, phương pháp sử dụng hoặc quy trình sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết. Trên cơ sở làm rõ những tác động của những đối tượng này đến thị trường dược phẩm, bao gồm trở ngại trong việc sản xuất thuốc gốc, giá thuốc tăng cao, khả năng tiếp cận thuốc của cộng đồng bị hạn chế, bản tham luận đã đề ra một số giải pháp về mặt chính sách cũng như về mặt kinh tế và khoa học nhằm hạn chế phần nào những tác động thiếu tích cực mà việc bảo hộ các đối tượng sáng chế mới có thể mang lại cho ngành công nghiệp dược phẩm tại Việt Nam

Dẫn nhập

Hiệp định đối tác chiến lược xuyên Thái Bình Dương (gọi tắt là Hiệp đinh TPP) đã được Bộ trưởng các nước tham gia đàm phán ký kết vào đầu năm nay. Mặc dù đến thời điểm hiện tại, các nước thành viên vẫn đang trong giai đoạn thực hiện các thủ tục pháp lý nội bộ để phê chuẩn Hiệp định. Tuy nhiên, Việt Nam với tư cách là một bên tham gia đàm phán và ký kết Hiệp định, nhiều khả năng sẽ phải thực hiện các cam kết được ghi nhận trong Hiệp đinh, trong đó có các cam kết liên quan đến vấn đề sở hữu trí tuệ.

Quá trình đàm phán Hiệp định TPP đã diễn ra không hề suôn sẻ khi các bên tham gia đàm phán phải nỗ lực trung hoà những lợi ích đối lập. Chương 18 của bản dự thảo Hiệp định TPP, đề cập đến vấn đề sở hữu trí tuệ, bao gồm các vấn đề về sáng chế, chỉ dẫn địa lý, thực thi quyền,… đã gây ra những tranh luận gay gắt giữa nhóm các nước có nền kinh tế phát triển và nhóm các nền kinh tế đang phát triển trong số 12 nước tham gia đàm phán TPP. Tuy nhiên, để có thể đạt được một thoả thuận chung, hài hòa lợi ích của tất cả các bên, mỗi quốc gia thành viên đều phải có những nhượng bộ trong một số lĩnh vực nhất định.

Đối với Việt Nam, có cơ sở để nhận định rằng, những thoả thuận được ghi nhận tại Chương Sở hữu trí tuệ của TPP là sự đánh đổi lớn của Việt Nam để đạt được các lợi ích quan trọng khác về thương mại và đầu tư. Theo đó, Việt Nam đã chấp nhận những điều kiện bảo hộ về sở hữu trí tuệ cao hơn rất nhiều so với mức độ mà Việt Nam đang thực hiện. Đặc biệt là mức độ bảo hộ cực kỳ cao đối với sáng chế, thể hiện rõ nét qua các điều khoản mở rộng phạm vi đối tượng được bảo hộ, được dự đoán sẽ là thách thức cho nền công nghiệp dược phẩm, một ngành công nghiệp non trẻ và nhạy cảm của Việt Nam.

Bản tham luận này, sau đây sẽ phân tích những tác động, đồng thời cũng là những khó khăn mà ngành công nghiệp dược phẩm của Việt Nam sẽ phải đối mặt trong tương lai khi một số đối tượng mới được bảo hộ theo cam kết trong TPP. Qua đó, đề xuất một số biện pháp khắc phục phù hợp với các cam kết quốc tế cũng như điều kiện và khả năng thực tế của Việt Nam.

intellectual-property

Đối tượng bảo hộ sáng chế mới theo cam kết tại Hiệp định TPP

Chương 18 của Hiệp định TPP về sở hữu trí tuệ thiết lập một cơ chế bảo hộ mới, được đánh giá là cao hơn nhiều so với mức độ bảo hộ hiện tại được ghi nhận tại Hiệp định về các khía cạnh thương mại của quyền Sở hữu trí tuệ (Hiệp định TRIPS) cũng như Luật Sở hữu trí tuệ mà Việt Nam đang áp dụng. Cụ thể, Chương 18 Hiệp định TPP về sở hữu trí tuệ ghi nhận các thỏa thuận chung của các quốc gia trong lĩnh vực bảo hộ sáng chế, bao gồm các điều khoản về phạm vi các đối tượng được bảo hộ, điều chỉnh thời hạn của bằng độc quyền sáng chế, bảo vệ dữ liệu thử nghiệm,… Trong số các điều khoản tại Chương này, điều khoản ghi nhận sự mở rộng về phạm vi đối tượng được bảo hộ sáng chế được nhận định sẽ có tác động mạnh mẽ đến hệ thống bảo hộ sáng chế của Việt Nam.

Cụ thể, liên quan đến phạm vi các đối tượng được bảo hộ sáng chế, Điều 18.37.2 Hiệp định TPP quy định như sau:

Điều 18.37: Đối tượng được bảo hộ sáng chế.

  1. Theo khoản 3 và 4 và phù hợp với khoản 1, mỗi Bên khẳng định rằng bằng sáng chế có thể được cấp cho các sáng chế yêu cầu bảo hộ một trong các yếu tố sau: cách sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết, phương pháp sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết, hoặc quy trình sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết.Một Bên có thể hạn chế các quy trình sử dụng mới đó với những đối tượng không đòi hỏi việc sử dụng sản phẩm theo quy trình như vậy.”

Theo quy định của TRIPS và Luật Sở hữu trí tuệ Việt Nam, sáng chế là giải pháp kỹ thuật dưới dạng sản phẩm hoặc quy trình nhằm giải quyết một vấn đề kỹ thuật xác định. Để được bảo hộ là sáng chế, một sản phẩm hoặc quy trình phải đáp ứng yêu cầu về tính mới, tính sáng tạo và có khả năng áp dụng công nghiệp.[1] Theo đó, các đối tượng như cách sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết, phương pháp sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết, hoặc quy trình sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết không thể được bảo hộ là sáng chế do bản thân chúng, một cách độc lập, không phải là sản phẩm hay quy trình, hoặc nếu có, cũng không có đủ tính mới hay đủ trình độ sáng tạo.[2]

Tuy nhiên, trong trường hợp Hiệp định TPP được thông qua và vận hành, Việt Nam nhiều khả năng sẽ thực hiện bảo hộ đối với các đối tượng mới này. Điều này được đánh giá sẽ tạo ra sự tác động mạnh mẽ đối với thị trường dược phẩm tại Việt Nam.

Tác động của việc bảo hộ các đối tượng mới đến thị trường dược phẩm tại Việt Nam

Đối với ngành công nghiệp sản xuất thuốc gốc (thuốc generic), thuốc tương tự sinh học (thuốc biosimilar):

Khi một loại thuốc mới được nghiên cứu thành công và được cấp phép lưu hành, được gọi là biệt dược gốc (thuốc brand name) được cấp bằng sáng chế, chủ sở hữu bằng sáng chế của biệt dược gốc đó có độc quyền trong việc sản xuất biệt dược đó. Thông thường, để có thể sản xuất một biệt dược đang được bảo hộ, các doanh nghiệp sản xuất dược phẩm sẽ phải trả phí chuyển quyền sử dụng sáng chế (phí license) cho chủ sở hữu bằng độc quyền sáng chế của biệt dược đó. Trong hầu hết các trường hợp, phí chuyển quyền sử dụng sáng chế do các bên thỏa thuân, vì vậy, khoản phí này thường được chủ sở hữu ấn định ở mức rất cao. Tại Việt Nam, một nước đang phát triển với trình độ khoa học và tiềm lực kinh tế còn hạn chế, các công ty dược phẩm muốn sản xuất biệt dược thường phải chờ đến khi văn bằng bảo hộ sáng chế cấp cho biệt dược hết thời hạn để tiến hành sản xuất theo công thức của biệt dược đó. Sản phẩm của quá trình sản xuất này được gọi là thuốc gốc. Theo đó, thuốc gốc là thuốc có tính tương đương sinh học với biệt dược, chứa cùng lượng dược chất, sử dụng trong cùng điều kiện sinh khả dụng, tức là có tốc độ hấp thu vào cơ thể giống như biệt dược.[3]

Tương tự như vậy, chủ sở hữu của bằng độc quyền sáng chế đối với các loại thuốc có nguồn gốc sinh học (còn được gọi là các chế phẩm sinh học bao gồm các hormone tái tổ hợp, các chế phẩm máu, kháng thể đơn dòng, vắc xin tái tổ hợp và các sản phẩm ứng dụng công nghệ gen khác) cũng sẽ được cấp độc quyền sản xuất trong một khoảng thời gian nhất định. Khi hết thời hạn này, các doanh nghiệp sản xuất thuốc dù không được chủ sở hữu cho phép cũng có quyền sản xuất và đưa ra thị trường các sản phẩm thay thế có cùng bản chất và cùng chỉ định điều trị, tuy nhiên, với các điều kiện ngặt nghèo hơn so với thuốc gốc. Cụ thể, để có thể được lưu hành trên thị trường, thuốc generic chỉ cần chứng minh tính tương tự bào chế, tính tương đương sinh học, trong khi thuốc tương tự sinh học phải có dữ liệu thử nghiệm lâm sàng và tiền lâm sàng độc lập mà không được sử dụng dữ liệu thử nghiệm của chế phẩm sinh học đã được bảo hộ trước đó như đối với thuốc gốc. Các loại thuốc được sản xuất theo phương thức này được gọi là các thuốc tương tự sinh học (thuốc biosimilar).

Theo các quy định hiện tại của Hiệp định TRIPS cũng như các quy định của pháp luật sở hữu trí tuệ Việt Nam, đối với mỗi sáng chế, bằng độc quyền sáng chế có hiệu lực trong vòng 20 năm kể từ ngày nộp đơn yêu cầu bảo hộ. Kết thúc thời hạn này, các doanh nghiệp sản xuất thuốc có quyền sản xuất thuốc gốc hoặc thuốc tương tự sinh học mà không phải trả phí chuyển quyền sử dụng sáng chế. Tuy nhiên, với nội dung cam kết tại Điều 18.37.2 của Hiệp định TPP, chủ sở hữu bằng độc quyền sáng chế, cụ thể là một số doanh nghiệp sản xuất dược phẩm, có thể kéo dài thời hạn 20 năm độc quyền lên gấp nhiều lần bằng phương thức có tên gọi là “evergreening”.

Có nhiều định nghĩa khác nhau về thuật ngữ “evergreening”, tuy nhiên, có thể hiểu “evergreening” là phương thức được chủ sở hữu sử dụng để kéo dài thời gian được bảo hộ độc quyền sáng chế nhờ việc tạo ra một thay đổi nhỏ đối với sáng chế mà thậm chí không làm tăng thêm giá trị sử dụng của sáng chế đó.[4] Ví dụ, trong trường hợp muốn kéo dài thời hạn bảo hộ sáng chế của một sản phẩm thuốc biệt dược, khi sắp hết thời hạn bảo hộ, chủ sở hữu tiếp tục nộp đơn yêu cầu bảo hộ cho một công dụng mới của loại thuốc đó, một dạng bào chế mới, hoặc một một cách sử dụng mới. Đối với dược phẩm, ngay cả người không có chuyên môn trong lĩnh vực này cũng biết rằng, một loại thuốc hoàn toàn có thể có nhiều công dụng, nhiều dạng bào chế, và nhiều cách sử dụng khác nhau.

Như vậy, quy định tại Điều 18.37.2 Hiệp định TPP rõ ràng đã tạo điều kiện vô cùng thuận lợi cho chủ sở hữu sáng chế nói chung, đặc biệt là chủ sở hữu sáng chế dược phẩm thực hiện phương thức “evergreening”. Bằng cách tạo ra những thay đổi nhỏ đối với loại thuốc đã được bảo hộ (ví dụ sản xuất thuốc dạng nước thay vì dạng viên cứng như trước đây hoặc sử dụng bằng đường uống thay vì đường tiêm,…) từ đó thời hạn bảo hộ độc quyền đối với một loại thuốc có thể bị kéo dài thêm nhiều lần so với thời hạn 20 năm ban đầu.

Như một hệ quả tất yếu của việc thời hạn bảo hộ bị kéo dài thêm nhiều lần, không có bất kỳ một doanh nghiệp dược phẩm nào được quyền sản xuất thuốc gốc nếu sáng chế được bổ sung thêm một công dụng, một dạng bào chế mới hoặc một cách dùng mới vào thời điểm nó gần hết thời hạn bảo hộ, các doanh nghiệp sản xuất thuốc gốc sẽ phải chờ một khoảng thời gian dài gấp nhiều lần 20 năm, mới có thể sản xuất thuốc gốc. Do đó, nếu TPP được vận hành, quy định tạo điều kiện cho phương thức kéo dài thời hạn bảo hộ tại Điều 18.37.2 sẽ được Việt Nam nội luật hóa, ngành công nghiệp sản xuất thuốc gốc và thuốc tương tự sinh học, vốn chiếm tỷ trọng lớn trong ngành công nghiệp sản xuất dược phẩm của Việt Nam, sẽ bị ảnh hưởng nghiêm trọng.

  • Đối với giá thuốc và quyền tiếp cận thuốc của người dân Việt Nam.

Từ trước đến nay, dược phẩm luôn được xem là sản phẩm thiết yếu và nhạy cảm, ảnh hưởng đến lợi ích công cộng và tính mạng, sức khỏe con người và chất lượng cuộc sống. Thuốc gốc, do không phải bao gồm chi phí nghiên cứu và phát triển cũng như phí chuyển quyền sử dụng sáng chế, thường có giá thành rẻ hơn rất nhiều so với thuốc biệt dược. Vì vậy, thuốc gốc trở thành lựa chọn của rất nhiều bệnh nhân, đặc biệt là tại Việt Nam, đất nước có thu nhập bình quân đầu người ở mức thấp so với nhiều quốc gia trong khu vực cũng như trên thế giới.

Chấp nhận bảo hộ các đối tượng tại Điều 18.37.2 Hiệp định TPP đồng nghĩa với việc chấp nhận rằng thời gian bảo hộ độc quyền sáng chế đối với dược phẩm rất có thể sẽ tăng lên gấp nhiều lần bằng phương thức “evergreening”. Khi thời hạn bảo hộ sáng chế bị kéo dài thêm, các doanh ngiệp dược phẩm không thể sản xuất thuốc gốc để cung cấp cho nhu cầu phòng và chữa bệnh của cộng đồng. Chưa kể đến các lợi ích về kinh tế mà ngành sản xuất thuốc gốc bị thiệt hại, hệ quả ngay trước mắt là người dân và các bệnh nhân không còn sự lựa chọn nào khác ngoài việc trả một mức giá rất cao cho sản phẩm thuốc được bảo hộ sáng chế để bảo vệ sức khỏe và tính mạng của mình. Rõ ràng, các quy định về bảo hộ sáng chế trong TPP đã hạn chế đáng kể quyền tiếp cận thuốc của người dân đặc biệt là những bệnh nhân nghèo tại Việt Nam.

Một số đề xuất khắc phục những khó khăn của Việt Nam khi thực hiện bảo hộ các đối tượng mới

Đã từ lâu, trên cơ sở phù hợp với khả năng kinh tế và tiềm lực phát triển khoa học công nghệ của mình, các quốc gia luôn tìm kiếm một chính sách phù hợp nhằm cân bằng giữa việc bảo hộ quyền sở hữu trí tuệ và quyền tiếp cận thuốc của cộng đồng. Bằng Tuyên bố Doha 2001 về Hiệp định TRIPS và sức khỏe cộng đồng, tất cả các thành viên WTO, trong đó có các nước TPP đã ghi nhận tầm quan trọng, sự cần thiết và phù hợp đạo đức của việc áp dụng linh hoạt các quy định của TRIPS nhằm bảo vệ sức khỏe cộng đồng.

Trong quá trình đàm phán Hiệp định TPP, đoàn đàm phán chương sở hữu trí tuệ của Việt Nam đã bày tỏ quan điểm không chấp thuận các đề xuất liên quan đến việc tăng cường mức độ bảo hộ sáng chế. Trong Bản khuyến nghị chính sách của cộng đồng Doanh nghiệp Việt Nam về phương án đàm phán Chương sở hữu trí tuệ cũng như Thư kiến nghị về đàm phán Chương sở hữu trí tuệ của Phòng thương mại và công nghiệp Việt Nam (VCCI), các doanh nghiệp, hợp tác xã, nhóm bệnh nhân,… trên toàn quốc đã đề nghị đoàn đàm phán cần kịch liệt bác bỏ những đề xuất tăng cường bảo hộ sáng chế, đặc biệt là các quy định mở rộng phạm vi đối tượng bảo hộ sáng chế như cách sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết, phương pháp sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết, hoặc quy trình sử dụng mới của một sản phẩm đã biết[5]. Tuy nhiên, như đã nói, các quy định trong Chương Sở hữu trí tuệ trong Hiệp định TPP là sự đánh đổi của Việt Nam để đạt được những lợi ích kinh tế và chính trị cấp bách trong các lĩnh vực thương mại và đầu tư.

Quy định tại Điều 18.37.2 Hiệp định TPP, vốn được dự đoán là sẽ tạo điều kiện cho việc thực hiện “evergreening” đối với sáng chế, là điểm mới trọng tâm của việc bảo hộ sáng chế theo TPP so với pháp luật hiện hành của Việt Nam. Trên thế giới, nhiều nước bao gồm Ấn Độ và Philipines coi “evergreening” là một biểu hiện của việc lạm dụng quyền sở hữu trí tuệ và đã có những biên pháp hết sức quyết liệt để cấm hành vi này.[6] Vì vậy, trên cơ sở phù hợp với các cam kết trong TPP và vận dụng linh hoạt các điều khoản tùy nghi của Hiệp định TRIPS cũng như tinh thần của Tuyên bố Doha, Việt Nam cũng cần áp dụng một số biện pháp để bảo vệ sức khỏe cộng đồng và ngăn chặn việc lạm dụng quyền sở hữu trí tuệ đặc biệt trong vấn đề bảo hộ sáng chế đối với dược phẩm.

  • Nới lỏng những điều kiện về chuyển giao quyền sử dụng sáng chế bắt buộc trong lĩnh vực dược phẩm.

Bắt buộc chuyển giao quyền sử dụng sáng chế, hay còn được gọi là li-xăng không tự nguyện sáng chế, là việc cơ quan nhà nước có thẩm quyền cho phép một bên không phải là chủ sở hữu sáng chế được phép sử dụng sáng chế đó mà không cần có sự đồng ý của chủ sở hữu sáng chế. Hiệp định TPP cho phép các bên có quyền đặt ra ngoại lệ đối với độc quyền được cấp cho chủ sở hữu sáng chế, cụ thể, Điều 18.40 Hiệp định TPP quy định:

Điều 18.40: Ngoại lệ

Mỗi Bên có thể thiết lập một số ngoại lệ đối với độc quyền cấp cho chủ sở hữu sáng chế, với điều kiện các ngoại lệ đó không xung đột quá mức với việc khai thác bình thường sáng chế và không gây phương hại một cách bất hợp lý đến lợi ích hợp pháp của các chủ sở hữu bằng sáng chế, có tính đến lợi ích hợp pháp của các bên thứ ba.”

Hiện nay, Luật Sở hữu trí tuệ Việt Nam cũng đã quy định cụ thể các căn cứ bắt buộc chuyển giao sáng chế như: Sử dụng sáng chế nhằm mục đích công cộng, đảm bảo đáp ứng các nhu cầu cấp thiết của xã hội; Chủ sở hữu sáng chế không thực hiện nghĩa vụ sử dụng sáng chế hoặc thực hiện hành vi phản cạnh tranh;… Tuy nhiên, không phải trong bất cứ trường hợp nào cơ quan nhà nước có thẩm quyền cũng có đủ các căn cứ để thực hiện biện pháp bắt buộc chuyển giao quyền sử dụng sáng chế. Đồng thời người được chuyển giao quyền sử dụng sáng chế dược phẩm theo quyết định bắt buộc khi thực hiện sản xuất cũng bị hạn chế đáng kể về phạm vi sử dụng và quy mô sản xuất.

  • Tạo điều kiện cho việc nhập khẩu song song dược phẩm.

Nhập khẩu song song dược phẩm là việc nhập khẩu các sản phẩm thuốc được đưa ra thị trường nước ngoài một cách hợp pháp. Đối với Việt Nam, các sản phẩm thuốc tại thị trường nước ngoài, đặc biệt là các sản phẩm được sản xuất theo quyết định bắt buộc chuyển giao quyền sử dụng sáng chế, thường có giá thành rẻ hơn so với thuốc được sản xuất theo sự cho phép của chủ sở hữu sáng chế, ngay cả khi đã tính thuế nhập khẩu. Mặc dù tại thời điểm hiện tại, Luật sở hữu trí tuệ Việt Nam đã cho phép nhập khẩu song song dược phẩm, tuy nhiên, các quy định có liên quan khác (ví dụ: Thuế, cấp phép lưu hành, quản lý giá thuốc,…) vẫn chưa được thuận lợi đến mức độ có thể khuyến khích thực hiện nhập khẩu song song thuốc. Bởi vậy, Việt Nam nên tạo điều kiện thuận lợi, bao gồm tạo hành lang pháp lý toàn diện cho các doanh nghiệp thực hiện việc nhập khẩu song song các loại dược phẩm.

  • Quy định cụ thể hành vi lạm dụng quyền sở hữu trí tuệ như một hành vi phản cạnh tranh.

Luật cạnh tranh của Việt Nam tại thời điểm hiện tại chưa ghi nhận những hành vi lạm dụng quyền sở hữu trí tuệ, đặc biệt là độc quyền sử dụng sáng chế như một hành vi gây phản cạnh tranh. Trên thực tế, độc quyền sáng chế mang lại một thế mạnh cạnh tranh vô cùng lớn cho chủ sở hữu. Tuy nhiên, để đảm bảo quyền lợi ích hợp pháp, pháp luật về sở hữu trí tuệ trao cho chủ sở hữu sáng chế những độc quyền trong một thời hạn nhất định. Thời hạn đó đã được nghiên cứu kỹ lưỡng trên cơ sở cân nhắc lợi ích các bên và ấn định sao cho cân bằng giữa việc đảm bảo quyền lợi chính đáng của chủ sở hữu và việc đảm bảo tính cạnh tranh lành mạnh giữa các chủ thể kinh doanh trên thị trường. Bất kỳ hành vi nào, bằng cách thức nào, cố tình kéo dài thời hạn đã được ấn định đó, đều phải bị coi là hành vi lạm dụng quyền sở hữu trí tuệ và gây hạn chế cạnh tranh một đáng kể. Vì vậy, để đảm bảo một môi trường cạnh tranh lành mạnh cho thị trường dược phẩm, ngăn chặn các hành vi phản cạnh tranh, Việt Nam cần đưa vào pháp luật cạnh tranh của mình các quy định cụ thể về hành vi lạm dụng quyền sở hữu trí tuệ.

  • Một số biện pháp dành cho các doanh nghiệp dược phẩm.

Việc khắc phục những khó khăn đối với thị trường dược phẩm khi các đối tượng mới được bảo hộ theo cam kết trong TPP đòi hỏi không chỉ sự thay đổi về chính sách và pháp luật từ phía nhà nước và các cơ quan chức năng mà còn đòi hỏi sự ỗ lực đổi mới và phát triển từ phía các doanh nghiệp dược phẩm. Để có thể tồn tại trước thế mạnh cạnh tranh của các công ty dược phẩm nước ngoài, các doanh nghiệp trong nước cần không ngừng cải tiến công nghệ, nâng cao năng lực về tài chính, đẩy mạnh đầu tư cho nghiên cứu và phát triển. Trước mắt, có thể các doanh nghiệp trong nước chưa thể tự mình nghiên cứu được các loại thuốc hoàn toàn mới, tuy nhiên, việc tìm ra công dụng mới, dạng bào chế mới hay cách thức sử dụng mới của một loại thuốc đã có là hoàn toàn có thể. Quyền đăng ký sáng chế đối với các đối tượng này không phải chỉ được trao cho chủ sở hữu sáng chế của sản phẩm đã biết, vì vậy, các doanh nghiệp trong nước, không cần tốn quá nhiều công sức cũng có thể dành được độc quyền đối với sáng chế chỉ bằng việc tìm ra những điểm mới rất nhỏ xung quanh sáng chế đó (invent around and patent fences). Khi đã có được một số độc quyền xung quanh sáng chế của các doanh nghiệp nước ngoài, các doanh nghiệp trong nước hoàn toàn có thế mạnh để đàm phán về việc cấp phép sử dụng sáng chế gốc, bao gồm một số hình thức như góp vốn bằng độc quyền sáng chế, cấp phép ngược, cấp phép chéo,…

Bằng các biện pháp cả về mặt pháp lý lẫn về mặt kinh tế, kỹ thuật đã nêu trên, hành vi “evergreening”, cố tình kéo dài một cách bất hợp lý thời hạn bảo hộ sáng chế, hoàn toàn có thể được hạn chế một cách đáng kể, khắc phục hiệu quả những khó khăn đối với việc sản xuất thuốc gốc và đẩy mạnh phân phối thuốc giá rẻ, đảm bảo quyền tiếp cận thuốc của người dân Việt Nam. Ngay cả trong trường hợp Hiệp định TPP không được thông qua và đưa vào vận hành, trên phương diện của Việt Nam, các biện pháp kể trên vẫn có tác dụng triệt để trong việc ngăn chặn hành vi lạm dụng độc quyền đối với sáng chế, góp phần bảo vệ quyền lợi công cộng, thúc đẩy cạnh tranh và phát triển khoa học công nghệ.

Kết luận

Tới thời điểm này, Hiệp định TPP đã được ký kết. Hiệp định được đánh giá sẽ nâng mức độ bảo hộ sáng chế tại Việt Nam, vốn đã cao, lên đến mức bất hợp lý, không phù hợp với khả năng và tình hình thực tế của Việt Nam. Vì vậy, dù Hiệp định có được thông qua và đưa vào vận hành hay không, Việt Nam cũng cần có những biện pháp để kéo cán cân giữa việc bảo hộ độc quyền sáng chế dược phẩm và lợi ích, sức khỏe cộng đồng, vốn đang và ngày càng nghiêng về phía bảo hộ độc quyền sáng chế, trở về vị trí cân bằng.

(Tác giả: Tiến sĩ Luật Lê Nết, Đặng Thị Thùy Linh – Công ty Luật LNT & Partners)

[1] Xem: Điều 4.12 và Điều 58 Luật Sở hữu trí tuệ Việt Nam năm 2005, sửa đổi bổ sung năm 2009.

[2] Xem: Phòng Thương mại và Công nghiệp Việt Nam (VCCI), “Khuyến nghị chính sách của Cộng đồng doanh nghiệp Việt Nam về phương án đàm phán Hiệp định TPP – Chương Sở hữu trí tuệ”, tháng 7 năm 2012.

[3] Xem: Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Generic Drugs”, 2006.

[4] Xem: Ove Granstrand và Frank Tietze, “IP strategies and policies for and against evergreening”, tháng 4 năm 2015.

[5] Xem: Phòng Thương mại và Công nghiệp Việt Nam (VCCI), “Khuyến nghị chính sách của Cộng đồng doanh nghiệp Việt Nam về phương án đàm phán Hiệp định TPP – Chương Sở hữu trí tuệ”, tháng 7 năm 2012.

[6] Xem: Sushmita R., Christ Law College, “Evergreening: An abuse of the patent system” tháng 1 năm 2015.

Chuyên đề giải quyết tranh chấp xây dựng – Luật sư Lê Nết

Nội dung của Chuyên đề giải quyết tranh chấp xây dựng do Tiến sĩ Luật Lê Nết soạn thảo xoay quanh các vấn đề chính:

  1. HỢp đồng xây dựng theo Nghị định 37/ 2015
  2. Các loại tranh chấp trong xây dựng
  3. Nguyên nhân tranh chấp
  4. Giải pháp

Xem và tải bản đầy đủ tại Chuyên đề giải quyết tranh chấp xây dựng_LS. Lê Nết

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