Not sure why (the still bad economy?) but my law firm has been getting a rash of China joint venture deals and possible deals over the last six months or so. Many of these have involved a United States company that wants to enter into a Joint Venture with its China manufacturer so as to work jointly on manufacturing and marketing and selling some combined product or products around the world.
An email from one of our lawyers to a client doing such a China joint venture recently crossed my desk and I am setting it out below because it provides a good introduction to what is involved in “doing” a China joint venture.
There are two steps in forming an equity joint venture in China. The first is to enter into a written joint venture agreement between the Chinese and foreign participants in the joint venture. The second is to formally register the joint venture as a corporation under Chinese law.
With respect to these two steps, please note the following:
a. Since the JV agreement is required, we will move forward with drafting that document first. Issues related to the JV and its structure can be worked out in the process of drafting this document.
b. Please indicate at this time who you will want to use to actually register the joint venture company. There are several options:
For the JV Agreement, I have the following questions:
Please also note that a primary requirement for company formation in China is that you have a lease on a premises that is approved for the business approved for the company. For a manufacturer, this means a factory, for a trader, this means a warehouse. However, it is also possible to have an initial address that is simply an office in a case where the business plan contemplates later selection of an appropriate factory/warehouse site. Some jurisdictions will permit this, some will not.
Your proposed registered capital is $2,000,000. This means that the Chinese company will need to contribute the RMB equivalent of $400,000 in cash. Are they aware of this requirement? Do they have the cash? I assume that your group is also planning to contribute cash. As you mention in a related email, it is best from the start to develop a basic plan for contribution of the capital. There should be a basic business plan that provides how much will be contributed, when it will be contributed and for what it will be used.
China’s legal rules for contribution of capital are as follows:
It is common for local governments to impose even stricter requirements and we will need to check with the local government officials on this point. Note that they do not have the power to make the requirement LESS restrictive; they only have the power to make the requirement MORE restrictive.
You asked us how we plan to draft documents that provide for the contingency of your key Chinese counterpart dying. Since the shareholders in the JV are corporations, the death of any one person is irrelevant to the future life of the joint venture. We will write the JV Agreement to say that your Chinese joint venture partner company has the right to select a single director for the joint venture and that the director will be Mr. ______ at the outset. However if you believe that the participation of Mr. ______ in management of the JV is critical, you can provide the following:
There are a number of alternative ways to deal with this issue. Please consider the options that I have proposed and let me know whether you need additional information in to make your decision on how to proceed.
You are right to ask about dispute resolution. Dispute resolution should be in China. You can use the Zhanjiang Courts or arbitration at CIETAC in Shenzhen. Arbitration in Hong Kong will be of little to no benefit to you in resolving any disputes because Chinese courts do not recognize their decisions regarding the corporate governance of Chinese companies. We will need to discuss the pros and cons of Chinese courts and Chinese arbitral bodies.
We also will need to discuss who you will want to be the Representative Director. The day to day business of a Chinese companies is conducted by the general manager, not the representative director. The representative director role is limited to executing important contracts. This can be done by that person without any need to be physically located in China. In any Chinese company with a foreign representative director, there is always a challenge in allocating responsibility between the two individuals. The key issue is usually control of the company seal (“chop”). However, it is always best to appoint officers who are willing and able to travel to China freely. This is not a requirement, but it does make it easier to operate the company.
In answer to your question about scheduling contribution of capital, yes you are correct that it is an important issue for China joint ventures and one that should be resolved before executing the joint venture agreement.
I trust that the above answers your initial questions and lays out a bit of what we will need to be working on over the next few weeks. If you have any additional questions based on the above, please don’t hesitate.