Vietnam gets ready to lift foreign ownership caps

By Dat Nguyen   November 8, 2018 | 05:47 pm PT
Vietnam gets ready to lift foreign ownership caps
A woman rides a bicycle past a Stock Exchange center in Hanoi. Photo by Reuters/Kham
A new draft law is set to attract more foreign investment into multiple sectors by removing foreign ownership caps.

At a Wednesday forum in Hanoi, the Ministry of Finance presented a draft securities law that would remove the current 49 percent foreign ownership cap in many sectors, allowing majority or even 100 percent ownership of a company.

"The new law would remove the limit on companies operating in many of more than 200 of the conditional sectors," a Reuters report quoted Nguyen Quang Viet, an official in the State Securities Commission’s legal department, as saying.

In Vietnam, conditional sectors refer to industries subject to additional regulations that would override limits set out by the securities law.

"We expect the new law to encourage development of the market in a faster, stronger and more sustainable manner," Deputy Finance Minister Huynh Quang Hai said at the forum.

Former head of the Central Institute for Economic Management (CIEM) under the Ministry of Planning and Investment Le Dang Doanh said that the bill would "push" more foreign investment into Vietnam.

"Foreign investors have been reluctant to invest in Vietnamese businesses because they can only own a minority stake so far," he told VnExpress International.

Should the 49 percent restriction be removed, foreign companies will be able to gain further management rights, which will be a big incentive to enter Vietnam and expand their business, he added. "With the new law, they can hold decisive positions in Vietnamese companies."

Industry insiders also expect that the new regulation will allow foreign investors to expand their operations in Vietnam.

Citibank's Tsuyoshi Yamashita, who deals with Japanese businesses expanding into Vietnam, told the Nikkei Asian Review that real estate and infrastructure-related business, such as thermal power generation, will likely see a higher demand from foreign companies to do business together.

Roy Zuin Forney, an analyst in international business advisory at consultancy Dezan Shira & Associates, said that Asian investors will be interested in seeking merger and acquisition (M&A) deals with Vietnamese companies to reach into this market.

Vietnamese people’s rising income has allowed more of them to afford health care, which would be a potential market for the pharmaceutical sector, he said.

One source familiar with M&A deals in Vietnam told the Nikkei that Indian drugmaker Renova Global, which already has an office in Vietnam, is looking for opportunities to expand further in the country.

Informational technology and logistics are other industries that will also likely see more foreign investment flow in, industry insiders said.

However, Vietnam remains firm in keeping "sensitive and important" sectors out of the list.

Companies in security, defence, telecommunications and insurance, will continue to have 49 percent foreign ownership caps, Reuters quoted State Securities Commission official Viet as saying. The limit for banks will remain at 30 percent, he added.

Can Van Luc, a government economic advisor, said the government would consider raising limits on foreign ownership of banks on a case-by-case basis.

The draft law is expected to be submitted to the parliament for approval next year and take effect in January 2020.

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