A few months ago, co-blogger Steve Dickinson and I went on an extended legal/business trip to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, during which we met with around a dozen Vietnamese lawyers. One of the questions we asked nearly all of these lawyers (mostly because we kept getting different answers) was “what should we be putting in our contracts with Vietnamese companies, by way of a venue provision?” In other words, which of the below options would be best for our mostly American (with a smattering of European and Australian) clients:
- Litigation in the courts of the home country of our client.
- Litigation in the courts of Vietnam.
- Arbitration in Vietnam.
- Arbitration outside Vietnam.
- Litigation in the home country (within America or Europe or Australia) has the big plus of providing to the home company its greatest chance of prevailing. Litigation in America, Europe and Australia also tends not to require a large upfront filing fee/arbitration fee. But the downsides almost always outweigh the plusses, with the biggest downside being that neither Vietnam nor China will enforce the court judgments of most foreign countries. So if you are suing a Chinese or a Vietnamese company overseas and you prevail, you likely will have no means for collecting on your judgment/enforcing your judgment in either China or Vietnam. If the Chinese or Vietnamese company has assets in a country that will enforce such a judgment, then it is a different story, but that is rare. We only rarely write contracts with Chinese or Vietnamese companies that call for litigation outside of China or Vietnam, respectively. It also bears mentioning that litigation is public and has the potential to be the most expensive option of all.
- Litigation in the courts of Vietnam or China. The biggest plus for litigating in a China or a Vietnam court is that the courts in both countries are best equipped to enforce a judgment, be the judgment a monetary one or one requiring the Vietnamese or Chinese company to do something, such as stop violating intellectual property rights. The biggest downside of the courts of both Vietnam and China is that they tend not to be well equipped for handling complex commercial matters and they are sometimes biased against foreign companies. These negatives are much greater in Vietnam than in China and for that reason our China contracts far more often call for litigation in China than our Vietnam contracts call for litigation in Vietnam.
- Arbitration in Vietnam or China. The biggest plusses for arbitrating in Vietnam and China are that it is quite possible to have good arbitrators, have an arbitration in English, and have good chances of enforcement. The minuses are that it is also quite possible not to have good arbitrators and to have an arbitration in Chinese or Vietnamese. The costs can also be high and enforcement (particularly of a non-monetary award) can be slow. The other day a China lawyer proudly told me that he never lets his clients agree to arbitration within China. The reality though is that Chinese companies (especially SOEs) are increasingly mandating in-country arbitration (this is also true of Vietnam). If you are going to do an arbitration in either China or Vietnam, it is absolutely essential that your arbitration provision be written so as to avoid the numerous pitfalls possible with this.
- Arbitration outside Vietnam and China. The biggest plus with this is that you can choose wherever you want (Hong Kong, Singapore, Geneva, New York, Toronto, Sydney, Stockholm, wherever) and you can fairly easily get great arbitrators. The biggest minus (truer of Vietnam than of China, but true of both) is that enforcement of a foreign arbitration award can be slow and, even worse, can also be spotty. Be very careful here in that both Vietnam and China prohibit foreign arbitrations of certain disputes.
It is common to read articles with statements like this: “Contrary to popular belief that enforcement of arbitration awards in China is very difficult, statistics show that less than 10% of arbitration awards are set aside by Chinese courts”.
This is very misleading. Talk to those who actually work on arbitration enforcement and the picture is reversed: most awards are settled rather than enforced, and although courts hardly ever set aside awards, they do nothing at all – which of course favors the Chinese party.
It really does just depend….
- How To Write A China Contract. Arbitration Versus Litigation. Say Where?
- How To Sue A Chinese Company. Part II. Discovery
- How To Sue A Chinese Company. Part III. Litigation Strategies And Enforcing Judgments
- How To Sue A Chinese Company. Part IV. Arbitration In The U.S. And Suing In China
- Taking Judgments To China (And Korea), Let’s Not Sue Twice
- Why Suing Chinese Companies In The US Is Usually A Waste Of Time
- How To Write A China (CIETAC/BAC) Arbitration Clause
- Arbitration In China. Get Used To It.
- Litigation And Arbitration In China. No Surrender. Ever.
- China Courts. You Ain’t In Kansas Any More
- China Sex, Mistresses, And Improper Payments, And What They Mean For Your China Business Litigation
- China Sex, Mistresses, And Improper Payments, And What They Mean For Your China Business Litigation. Part II, The Contracts Do Matter Edition
Not easy issues. What do you think?