China Stock Options and SIPs
China stock options and share incentive plans

Companies often use share incentive programs to motivate employees by tying compensation to their service. Though no foreign person can own stock in a private Chinese company, it is possible for a PRC employee of a foreign company’s Chinese subsidiary to participate in the foreign company’s employee share incentive plan (“SIP”). However, due to China’s currency controls, whether such an employee can actually “cash out” on the benefits of such a program depends on whether the foreign company is or becomes listed on a foreign stock exchange at the time of exercise.

The primary rules on PRC citizen employees participating in a foreign company’s SIP come from the Circular on Foreign Exchange Administration of Domestic Individuals Participating in Share Incentive Plans of Foreign Listed Companies [2012] No.7 (“Circular 7”,  issued by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (“SAFE”).

  • Registration and Designated Account

Under Circular 7, a foreign listed company can offer SIPs to its PRC subsidiary’s employees in China via an incentive plan. The incentive plan must be registered with the local SAFE office where the foreign company’s domestic agent is located. This domestic agent can be the PRC subsidiary of the foreign listed company participating in the SIP (if multiple places, then the location of the headquarter) or a third party domestic entity that is qualified to provide asset custodian services.

Once the registration is complete, the domestic agent must open and maintain a domestic foreign exchange account designated for handling foreign payments and collecting money for all domestic individuals participating in the SIP of the overseas listed company. Any payments under the incentive plan must go through this special account before they go to an individual participant’s bank account.

Again, just like China employment contracts, we cannot emphasize enough how SAFE registration is highly local. It is critical to consult with the local SAFE office about specific requirements for registration before submitting an application. And just as is true of pretty much anything and everything in China, you do not want to get halfway through the process before you realize you are doing it wrong because this will make doing it right more difficult or perhaps even impossible.

  • Type of Awards Covered

Under Circular 7, share incentive plans mean any incentive plan where the shares of the foreign listed company are offered to directors, supervisors (officers who supervise directors and senior management of a company, a position created under the PRC Company Law), senior management employees, other employees of the domestic company or individuals who have a labor relationship with the domestic company. This includes employee stock option plans, share ownership plans, and any incentive plans permitted by law.

Though Circular 7 does not enumerate the specific types of awards to which it applies, the relevant registration form provides checkboxes for the following types of awards: stock ownership plans, stock options, stock appreciation rights, phantom stock, restricted stock (units), performance shares (units), and stock purchase plans.

  • Nationality of Participants

Circular 7 defines “domestic individuals” as directors, supervisors, senior management and other employees within the scope of article 52 of the Regulation on Foreign Exchange Administration who are PRC, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macao nationals, and other foreign nationals who have resided within China for one year on a continuous basis, except foreign diplomats in China and the representatives of any international organizations in China.

  • PRC Employees and Foreign Private Company Incentive Plans

Certain special rules apply to special purpose vehicles (foreign companies established or controlled by PRC residents or organizations) and PRC law and Circular 7 are silent on domestic individuals participating in purely foreign private companies’ SIPs. This does not mean Chinese individuals are not allowed to participate in a foreign private company’s SIP, but the lack of clear legal authorization makes it practically impossible for PRC individuals to receive benefits or awards under those plans if the foreign company is not yet public by the time of exercise.

And again, because SAFE registration is so highly localized, even though the law does not require registration of a private foreign company’s SIP, it is advisable to consult with the local SAFE office and attempt registration anyway. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

A foreign company with a concrete plan to become publicly listed in the near future can enter into an agreement with its employees in China to offer stock option or other awards. If the company does go public as planned, such awards can then be registered with SAFE and special accounts can be created to process payments in compliance with PRC laws. However, when entering into such agreements, the company should also make sure its employees in China understand that if the company does not go public, the employees may never receive SIP related proceeds due to China’s foreign exchange control rules.

 

 

China Design Patents
China Design Patents

Design patents are increasingly becoming an essential component of our clients’ China IP portfolios. They’re reasonably priced, don’t take that long to acquire, and provide pretty good protection.

That said, it’s important to understand the limitations of a design patent. A design patent does not provide protection for a product’s functionality or inner workings. It does not protect a product’s manufacturing process. It does not even protect the materials or components used in a product. The only thing a design patent protects is the external appearance of a product. For this reason, the application for a design patent is short and sweet, with the substantive parts limited to orthographic drawings of the design and a brief description.

The main reason design patents can be acquired with relative ease in China is that they are not substantively examined. China’s State Intellectual Property Office (SIPO) only examines design patent applications to confirm that the drawings and description meet formal requirements, i.e., adequately describe the design. SIPO does not search to see if the design is the same as or similar to prior art. That sort of examination only takes place if the design patent is challenged.

Like other patents, design patents in China have a requirement of absolute novelty. If you have already disclosed or commercialized a product anywhere in the world, it is not eligible for design patent protection in China. This is a marked difference from trademarks, which can be registered at any time regardless of when use actually began. To be sure, it’s almost always a good idea to file a trademark as soon as possible, even before use. – it’s just not legally required. Design patents are also different from copyrights, which are protected at the time of creation even if they’re never registered. This disjunction can be confusing, especially when aspects of a design could (theoretically) be covered by multiple forms of IP. For certain products, the appearance of the product itself may be protectable under trademark, copyright, and patent regimes. That is rare, but it can happen and it lulls some of our clients into forgetting that though they are legally allowed to wait on filing a trademark or copyright (no matter how often we tell them not to wait) if they wait too long to file a patent they may be legally barred.

Once our clients are ready to move forward with a design patent application, we send a list of questions pretty much as follows:

  1. Please provide the name and passport number (if not a PRC citizen) or national ID number (if a PRC citizen) of the person who designed the product. If you commissioned a design firm, then the name should be that of the person at the design firm.
  2. Please provide the priority date, if relevant. You would only have a priority date if you had filed a patent application in the US (or some other jurisdiction) for this design in the past 6 months.
  3. If you have filed a previous application in another jurisdiction, we will need a copy of the filing documents.
  4. Please provide a set of formal drawings for the design. Assuming that you want the design patent to cover all sides of the product, then we’d need an orthographic projection of all sides (usually 6 sides: top, bottom, left, right, front, back). The drawings cannot contain dotted or dashed lines, or shading to indicate perspective.
  5. Please provide a brief (one-paragraph) description of the name and use of the product incorporating the design and the essential features of the design.

Like I said, short and sweet.

China lawyersAs many of you probably know, UCLA basketball players LiAngelo Ball, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, were arrested in China last week on suspicion of stealing sunglasses from a Louis Vuitton store in Hangzhou. President Trump claims their fast release from custody stems from his having personally asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to intervene in the case.

Whether President Trump was or was not responsible for the quick release of these three players (I am convinced he was), what should those without such presidential connections do when similarly arrested in China. We recommend the following:

1. Contact your Nearest Embassy or Consulate. Your first step should usually be to contact your nearest embassy or consulate, but recognize that it will be limited in the assistance it can provide. Foreigners arrested in China are subject to Chinese laws, not the laws of their own country. This should be obvious, but not everyone knows this.

Your embassy or consulate should be able to help you with the following:

  1. Providing you with a list of local attorneys who speak your native language
  2. Contact your family, friends or employer
  3. Visit you in jail and provide you with reading materials and maybe food.
  4. Monitor your situation in jail and help ensure that you are being treated appropriately.
  5. Provide you with an overview of the local criminal justice process

2. Hire a Local Criminal Attorney. You will need a local attorney. This means if you are arrested in Qingdao you need a Qingdao criminal lawyer and not a Shanghai one. China has many terrific criminal lawyers and they usually require relatively low upfront flat fees to take on a new matter for a new client. This means it is usually relatively easy to find a good and cheap Chinese criminal lawyer, but few speak English.

It is absolutely critical that you get a good local criminal lawyer as quickly as possible. Far too often when our China lawyers get contacted regarding a criminal law situation in China, the detainee or the detainee’s friends or family believe that because the arrest was a “mistake” no lawyer is needed. Some claim they do not need a lawyer because they or someone they know has sufficient guanxi to handle the arrest lawyer-free. Even if these people are right (and they pretty much never are), it still behooves them to get a good local criminal lawyer immediately.

No ifs ands or buts: if you are arrested in China, you need a local criminal lawyer and fast. 

How do you find such a lawyer? That depends. By way of an example, one of our China lawyers was recently retained to find a criminal lawyer in a small Chinese city. This lawyer immediately emailed all of the China lawyers in our firm and we all emailed our China lawyer contacts in various cities to ask for the names of recommended Chinese criminal lawyers in this small Chinese city. The client ended up hiring a lawyer who was mentioned multiple times by the Chinese lawyers we know.

3. Contact Family and Friends but Keep Them Quiet

Sometimes you want your family and friends on the outside to scream up and down about your arrest. Sometimes that is the worst strategy possible. It is generally a good idea not to publicize your case unless your local criminal lawyer instructs you to do so. China is not going to release you because your hometown newspaper is saying you are being held unfairly. Instead, your publicizing the unfairness of your arrest might just cause the local prosecutor or court to double down. But see here for a case where the strategy was to generate bad publicity for the arresting country.

4. Hire an Attorney in Your Home Country (Sometimes) 

Our China attorneys get contacted by arrested Westerners maybe ten times a year. If the matter is something like a shoplifting arrest, we usually do little more than provide our client with a few tips and find them a good local criminal lawyer and sometimes good local translator. This is the case for nine out of ten. But in some cases — when the Westerner arrested is from the United States or Spain or Germany where we have our own attorneys — we do considerably more.

By way of one example, our firm a few years ago represented an American charged by China with massive financial fraud. We stayed involved in this case from its beginning through sentencing (note that more than 99 percent of those charged with a crime in China end up being convicted). For this client we did the following:

  • Found him a top-tier criminal lawyer. This lawyer did not speak Chinese and so we often served as the intermediary.
  • We often served as an intermediary with the US Consulate.
  • We would communicate with the detainee’s family in the United States
  • We gathered up key mitigating documents from the United States and other countries outside China.
  • Perhaps most importantly, we explained China’s legal system to the detainee and his family and, in particular, the huge benefits of admitting to the crime and setting up a procedure to reimburse those who harmed by the crime and a rehabilitation plan. We also explained China’s sentencing and early release laws and the importance/benefit of reimbursing the victims so as to get a sentence term that allowed for early release.

Bottom Line: If you or someone you know are arrested in China, take it very seriously and act quickly.

Best China Blogs
Goodbye Peking Duck.

The Peking Duck blog officially closed today. I am not the sentimental type and to a great extent, everyone knew this day would soon arrive. But yet today is still a sad day.

The Peking Duck was at one time one of the two or three best and most honest blogs on China. Through that blog, I got to know its author Richard Burger and I am proud to think of him as a friend. Richard and I most certainly did not agree on many things (though there were many things on which we did agree), but I ALWAYS appreciated his blog posts because they were also so “real.” They were also always so very well written and so insightful. Richard always was and still is a class act.

When we first started our blog way back in January, 2006, and for a long time after that, no day would go by without our reading Peking Duck, as it (along with a few other blogs that are also no more (many of which Peking Duck lists in its farewell post) was the zeitgeist of China.

If you wanted to know China, you read Peking Duck. It was that simple

To give you some idea of how important we viewed the Peking Duck, I note that this is the 40th time we have cited to it in a blog post and that from 2006 to  2008, we cited to it 23 times, which I am guessing was more any other publication. If we were having a tough time coming up with a good topic for the day, we knew we could pretty much always find something worthy of discussion on Peking Duck.

Richard never pulled a punch yet he, like so many of us back in “those days”, were so infused with optimism. Sorry, but it was a better time.

Not surprisingly, Peking Duck’s last paragraph nails it:

It was a thrilling ride. I used to love waking up to hundreds of new comments. It was a real community. But all good things must end, and I probably should have shut down the site a few years ago instead of allowing it to slowly die on the vine. Thanks so much for joining me here. I’ll miss all of those who contributed to The Peking Duck — the site was more about the participants here than it was about me. What a great experience it was. Thanks again.

It is with considerable sadness that I join the long line of people mourning the final demise of Peking Duck and wishing Richard all the best in his offline life.

It was indeed a “great experience.”

 

China employer auditNow is the time of year when we usually go full one with our employer-employee audits. The below is what we usually recommend to our employer clients for our audits. Due to China’s recent rash of employment law changes, the importance of these audits have increased in importance. Though not an exhaustive list, the below can serve as a good starting point. Going through the below will help you see where you are in terms of employment law compliance and, most importantly, what you should do to avoid future problems. Now is the time to do this because certain requirements must be satisfied by the end of the year.

  1. Employment contracts. Do have a written contract with every single one of your employees, including part-time employees? Are all of your employment contracts current? Are all your open-term employees on open-term contracts? Do all your contracts contain non-compete provisions while it is not necessary to include them?
  2. Employer rules and regulations. Do you actually have a set of employer rules and regulations? More importantly, does this document work for China? Have you given it to all of your employees? Have your employees signed an acknowledgment of receipt proving they actually received it? Is that form in Chinese?
  3. Female employees, especially those who are pregnant or nursing or are maternity leave. Are you providing the labor protections and conditions required by the relevant laws? Are you providing the required maternity leave? Are your employees on maternity leave being paid what they should be paid during the entire period of their leave? Are you extending the contracts of female employees who are in the specially protected class as required by law?
  4. Working time, rest and vacation days. Are your employees using up their vacation days each year? If not, can you still make arrangements so they can take their unused vacation days without incurring payment obligations on your part? Are you making sure your employees who are designated to work under the standard working hours system do not exceed their standard working time? Are you staying on top of your employees’ overtime? Are you current on the alternate working hours system renewal? Are you giving your employees on these systems enough rest and due consideration to their health?
  5. Employee remuneration. Are you meeting the minimum wage requirements? Do you timely pay your employees in full? When you withhold payment from an employee, do you explain the reasons to the employee and document the situation so you will be able to show your action was reasonable and lawful?
  6. Social insurance contributions. Are you making all mandatory social insurance contributions? How do you treat your part-time employees? Are you treating your expats according to the local law?
  7. Expats. Are you current on all paperwork for your expats? Are you providing the employee benefits as mandated by law?
  8. Last but not least, employee terminations. Are you handling all of your employee terminations according to the law? Do you document your employee terminations including so-called voluntary resignations in writing? Do you timely transfer your terminated employees’ files and social insurance accounts? Do you perform all your obligations upon employee departure, such as providing a Proof of Termination of Employment Relationship document?

Get started on this, NOW. Do not wait.

 

China trade duties“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  Spock, from the Wrath of Khan.

In most trade cases, a few domestic producers (or even one) ask the U.S. government to protect them by imposing extra duties or other trade barriers on imports. Usually, larger numbers of U.S. importers, downstream manufacturers or consumers wind up bearing these costs to protect the domestic producers, even though these costs are often arbitrary, excessive and unfair.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) just wrapped up its part in the latest trade case against imported solar cells and modules. Solar products from China were already hit with antidumping and countervailing (AD/CVD) duties in 2011 and 2014. This was not enough for the two largest remaining U.S. solar producers, Suniva, Inc. and SolarWorld Americas, Inc., who now have asked for a safeguard investigation to determine whether extra tariffs, quotas, and/or floor prices should be imposed on all imported solar cells and modules from any country. Opposing Suniva and SolarWorld is the rest of the $29 billion U.S. solar industry, mainly the U.S. solar energy developers, downstream U.S. solar panel installers and U.S. manufacturers of solar components, such as racking systems and inverters. On the one hand, Suniva and SolarWorld are hoping the safeguard relief measures will save hundreds of workers at their facilities. On the other hand, opponents argue these remedial measures would threaten many thousands of workers at other U.S. companies that have benefitted from the solar energy boom.

Though Suniva blames import competition for its bankrupt condition and its need for this safeguard action, the reality is that Suniva filed this case because it got whacked by the second solar trade case filed by SolarWorld. Previously, Suniva’s business model relied on producing solar cells in the United States that it then shipped to China where they were assembled into solar panels that were shipped back to Suniva’s U.S. customers.

The second solar trade case brought by SolarWorld in 2014, however, targeted any Chinese solar panels, regardless of where the solar cells were made. SolarWorld had complained that the first solar case in 2011 had an enormous loophole because it covered only Chinese solar panels made with Chinese solar cells. After that first case, Chinese module makers quickly switched to use cells from third-countries, mainly Taiwan, which caused SolarWorld to file its second case. Suniva in the second case claimed that any Chinese modules that used its American solar cells should be exempt from AD/CVD duties just because they were American, but the Department of Commerce (DOC) disagreed. The second round of solar duties disrupted Suniva’s supply chain and made using its Chinese module assemblers cost prohibitive. Suniva thus decided its last hope was to file a safeguard action that would artificially create a level playing field whereby all imported solar panels would be subject to the same high duties, quotas or floor prices.

The problem is how high do those trade barriers have to be for Suniva and SolarWorld to have any chance of surviving?

In this ITC safeguard investigation, Suniva and SolarWorld originally asked for extra tariffs to be imposed for four years, starting at 40 cents per watt on imported solar cells and a minimum price floor of 78 cents per watt for solar modules, as well as proposed import quotas to limit the total amount of imported cells (0.22 gigawatts) and modules (5.7 gigawatts). Solar industry analysts feared these measures would at least double the current cost of solar products, slash solar demand by two-thirds, and undermine billions of dollars of pending solar investment projects.

The ITC just released three different remedy packages that recommend far less than what Suniva and SolarWorld requested. The highest of the Commission proposals calls for extra tariffs of 30 to 35 percent on solar modules and cells that would then decrease certain percentage points each year for four years. Given the current forecasts that imported panels would cost around 32 cents per watt, analysts expect the highest Commission proposed remedies would add only an extra cost of 10 to 14 cents per watt.

Suniva and SolarWorld have expressed disappointment with the ITC recommendations and they have asked President Trump to impose stronger measures they claim are necessary to save the domestic U.S. solar manufacturing industry from extinction.

Unlike the more common AD/CVD cases in which the ITC and the DOC decide on whether to impose extra duties, in these rarely used safeguard investigations, the President has the ultimate authority to decide what, if any, remedial measures should be imposed. President Trump will have until January 12, 2018, to decide what remedial measures will be imposed that may affect $8.3 billion of imported solar cells and panels. He can follow any of the Commission’s recommendations or come up with his own remedial measures.

There have been few U.S. safeguard actions (and none since 2001). One reason why safeguard actions fell out of favor was because domestic industries found them less effective than the more commonly used AD/CVD actions. Because safeguard actions permit trade restrictions to be imposed on fairly traded imports, U.S. law specifically limits safeguard measures to a shorter period (usually four years or less) and to a maximum tariff rate of not more than 50% above existing rates.

Most importantly, the safeguard statute gives the President discretion to weigh the costs and benefits of imposing remedial measures. From 1975 to 2001, U.S. Presidents have declined to implement any trade restrictions in slightly more than half of the cases (19 of 40) in which they could have. In those cases where the President did impose trade barriers, they were usually much lighter than what the petitioning domestic industry sought. Past Presidents chose to impose no or much lighter safeguard remedies because they acknowledged the potentially harmful impact the proposed tariffs or quotas might have on downstream users and consumers, as well as the risk of other countries retaliating by imposing their own safeguard measures against U.S. exports to those countries.

But since President Trump has vowed to take strong action against imports, this solar safeguard action (along with another safeguard action on washing machines) is being watched closely as a test of whether President Trump’s actions will match his tough campaign rhetoric. If President Trump imposes remedial measures tougher than what the Commission recommends, we could see a flood of other safeguard petitions from other U.S. industries seeking a quick direct route to import relief from a sympathetic President.

In 2015-16, solar energy-related companies employed 374,000 people in the U.S., which is more than the combined number of workers in the coal, oil, and gas industries. Technological advances and competition have pushed solar installation costs down more the 60 percent since 2011 and solar electricity has in some places become cost competitive with electricity sourced from oil, coal, and gas. If President Trump imposes excessive safeguard remedies he could wipe out all progress solar energy has made in the United States. For the U.S. solar industry to live long and prosper President Trump will need to balance the needs of the many and not just consider the needs of the few.

Here is hoping the President makes a logical choice because a lot is going to be riding on it.

China e-commerce law
Earlier this week, in China E-Commerce: Resistance is Futile, we set out what will likely be the new rules for foreign.

I could not have scripted better responses to that post as I personally received emails from what I would describe as “both ends of the spectrum.”

The first email is from a European businessperson I know who has been doing business with China for 25+ years and living in China for at least a decade. He has become pretty cynical about China and the focus of his email was on how China is setting everything up to “screw us foreigners”: Here is his email:

Great post as usual. It nicely encapsulates what I see happening here with everything. China is re-writing its laws to make its own companies rich and to screw us foreigners.

On the flip side, I got the following email from a very experienced China lawyer essentially saying nearly the opposite:

Exactly. The intelligent way to approach China is to figure out what is their plan and then work that plan to your advantage. Fighting against the plan is futile. Working with the plan can result in a lot of money. Google decided to fight, and they are gone. Microsoft finally decided to go with the plan and they are still in the middle of the China system.

When I say these sorts of things I get accused of being too negative and I would bet you will get that reaction to this post. But I do not view it negatively at all. It outlines a clear plan to success in China. It’s just that the plan follows a basic path outlined by the PRC government and Alibaba and the other rules of the PRC Internet. There is lots of money to be made and there are many things to be done to make the deals and to protect IP and similar.

That was our exact point with the post. There are great opportunities to make money on China e-commerce but to do so you must follow China’s rules. You can complain about those rules all you like, but the real issue is whether you are going to jump in and seize the opportunity (flawed though it is) or not. What’s your answer?

Earlier this year, I attended Alibaba’s Gateway ’17. The theme of that event was that there is easy money to be made by Western companies selling their products on Tmall and on Taobao. There is most definitely a lot of money to be made but it is debatable how easy it is to make it. I don’t know about you, but I doubt that any of our long list of clients who are making money in or from China — be it via China e-commerce or otherwise — would ever claim it to have been easy. And yet, I also doubt that any of them would say that it has been so difficult as to not be worth it.

The bottom line is that selling your products to China consumers via e-commerce will not be as easy or as cheap as selling your products to U.S. or EU consumers. But is that enough to stop you? In our next post, we will talk about what you should do to protect your IP before you start selling online to China.

 

China WFOE Formation
How to name a China WFOE

Strange but true: WFOE formations are seasonal and fall is for our law firm always the busiest time of the month for WFOE formations. Like clockwork every year, companies come to us in September and October seeking our help in getting their WFOE formed “by the end of the year.”

This plethora of WFOE formations has meant a correspondingly large number of e-mails from our China lawyers to our clients explaining the steps required to form a WFOE in China. Because these emails are helpful to anyone forming a WFOE in China or even just considering doing so, I will from time to time run some of those on here. Today’s email is about choosing a name for your WFOE.

It is necessary to select a Chinese language name for your WFOE. In choosing the name, please note the following:

1. In China, only the Chinese language name has any legal status; as a legal matter, the English is not relevant. This means you can use any English language name you want.
2. Chinese company names follow this rigid structure: [City of formation] Company Name [business type] [Company Ltd.]
So, an English equivalent of a typical Chinese company name would be: Shenzhen ABC Consulting Co. Ltd.
The elements in [] square brackets are fixed by the local government. This means the only thing we need determine now is the Company Name. Since as you can see, company names can get rather long, it is usually best to limit the Company Name part to 3 or 4 Chinese characters at most.
3. The company name must be different than any other company registered in your same kind of business. It is often surprising how many good names are already taken. For this reason, the local authorities require we submit AT LEAST five alternative names and they (and we) prefer ten alternatives if possible.
4. There are two approaches to selecting a Chinese company name. You can pick a descriptive name or you can pick a name that has no meaning but is intended to reproduce only the sound of the parent company name. When descriptive names are used, investors often make the mistake of choosing names that are too long. As noted above, the name should be limited to three or at most four Chinese characters.
5. You will need a native speaker of Chinese to assist you in choosing the names. Some companies simply work this out with their current staff. Some companies hire a public relations or a branding company to work with them on the issue. Note that your Chinese company name will become your identity, so a careful choice is advised. We can give you names of some branding companies with whom we have worked on China matters.
6. When you have chosen your names please submit them to us for a preliminary review. We check to see if there are any obvious conflicts with existing names and we also can give you some advice on the suitability of the names selected. We will then work with the local government to devise the full Chinese name to be used on the WFOE registration papers.
We realize this WFOE naming process can be somewhat confusing and so we urge you not to hesitate to reach out to any of us for further assistance on this or on anything else on which we are working to form your China WFOE.
China e-commerce laws
China e-commerce laws

The PRC National People’s Congress last week promulgated a second discussion draft of the PRC E-Commerce Law (电子商务法草案). If you are interested in commenting, you can find the new statute and a portal for comments here.

This statute is an attempt to gain greater control over the online consumer markets. These markets have exploded in China, in a situation where there is little or no regulation. The lack of regulation has not slowed development of e-commerce in the PRC. The success of online marketing is shown by the recent results of Alibaba’s November 11 “Singles Day” online sales event. As reported by ZD Net, the results were impressive:

Alibaba Group has raked in US$25.3 billion (168.2 billion yuan) in gross merchandise volume (GMV) from its annual online shopping festival, breaking last year’s record sales by 39 percent.

Held on November 11, its Singles Day shopping bonanza this year involved more than 140,000 participating merchants, including 60,000 international brands. Some 165 of these each generated more than US$15.1 million (100 million yuan) in sales, including Gap, Nike, and Samsung, with 17 merchants exceeding US$75.4 million (500 million yuan) and six surpassing US$150.9 million (1 billion yuan) in sales.

Japan, Australia, and Germany were amongst countries with the most sales selling into China during Singles Day this year.
At its peak, Alibaba processed 256,000 transactions per second and US$1 billion (6.6 billion yuan) was processed within the first couple of minutes. In the first two hours, it registered US$11.9 billion (78.8 billion).

Overall, Alibaba processed 1.48 billion payments, up 41 percent year-on-year, and 812 million delivery orders via its logistics arm, Cainiao Network. This was 23 percent higher than last year’s 657 million delivery orders.”

As you can see, foreign products played a big part in the success of the Singles Day event. Section 5 of the Discussion Draft sets out the proposed rules for cross-border sales. The Singles Day even illustrates the way the Discussion Draft plans for the future of cross-border online sales:

1. Foreign retailers will not be permitted to directly participate in online sales in China. All online sales will be limited to Chinese owned entities that have obtained the required commercial ICP license. Though there had been some hope there would be a limited exemption to the ICP license rule for e-commerce produce sales, there is no hint of such a change in the Discussion Draft. The PRC government intends to continue restricting e-commerce sales to Chinese owned or controlled entities.

2. Foreign-owned operators of e-commerce platforms will also be excluded from operating in the Chinese market. Sales of foreign products will be forced to come into China through Chinese owned or controlled platforms.

3. The Discussion Draft provisions on cross-border e-commerce focus on ensuring cross-border sales comply with Chinese law and only approved products are imported into China and all taxes and duties on those products get paid. The Discussion Draft seeks to shut down online sales as a way to import illegal products into China and to shut down online sales as a method for evading China taxes and import duties.

4. The method for control proposed by the Discussion Draft is to create highly centralized e-commerce processing centers. The China (Hangzhou) Cross-Border E-Commerce Processing Pilot Area is an example of the ultimate goal. The idea is that these centers will handle the procedures related to e-commerce: foreign purchase, shipping to China, import into China with full compliance with all PRC applicable regulations on product approval, inspection and quarantine, payment of duties and taxes, and warehousing and distribution.

The plan is to funnel all cross-border e-commerce through a limited number of processing centers, all of which are controlled by the national government. These processing centers will also be under the control of a single e-commerce sales platform. The Hangzhou Center will be controlled by Alibaba, with competing online sales giants in China presumably establishing and controlling their own competing centers. This would be the opposite of the freewheeling approach that typifies e-commerce development in the U.S. It is though quite consistent with the current domination of retail e-commerce in the U.S. by a limited group of large players.

The success of the Alibaba event shows that the model envisioned by the Discussion Draft is already fully functioning. Foreign retail brands were excluded from direct sales. They were instead funneled through the single channel provided by Alibaba. Alibaba assumed all liability for compliance with PRC rules and regulations. No foreign entity was involved in any way with the actual direct sale of its product or with any direct relation to any Chinese consumer; all of this was handled by Alibaba.

This is the future of e-commerce in China. For foreign brand owners that want to penetrate the PRC online sales market, the Discussion Draft makes clear how the system will work.

Resistance is futile.

China Lawyers
China Law Blog is getting “social.”

When we first started this blog we would fairly often get hundreds of comments on one post. With the changes in how so many of you actually see our posts and the importance of social media, those days are over. Or at least they have diversified.

As part of that diversification, we have ramped up what we do on social media as well. we started a China Law Blog Group on Linkedin to create a spam-free forum for China networking, information, and discussion. That group is always growing at it is now has more than 11,500 members and the number and quality of our discussions keep rising as well.

We have had some great discussions, as evidenced both by the numbers (we’ve had discussions with 50-100 comments) and on their substance. Our discussions range from the practical (“why is it so difficult to do business in China” or ”what do I need to do to get my Chinese counterparty to follow my contract) to the ethereal (“when will we know China is taking innovation seriously”).

The group has a large contingent of members who live and work and do business in China and a large contingent of members who do business with China from the United States, Australia, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and other countries in Asia. Some of our members are China lawyers, but the overwhelming majority are not. We have senior personnel (both China attorneys and executives) from large and small companies and a whole host of junior personnel as well. We have professors and we have students. These mixes help elevate, enliven, and enlighten the discussions.

What I think truly separates us from most (all?) of the other China groups on Linked, however, is how we block anything and everything that even smacks of spam. We have become so proficient at not allowing spam to see the light of day that hardly anyone even tries to sneak anything past us anymore.

If you want to learn more about doing business in China or with China, if you want to discuss China law or business, or if you want to network with others doing China law or business, I urge you to check out our China Law Blog Group on Linkedin and join up. The more people in our group, the better the discussions. Click here and join us!

Our China Law Blog Facebook page also just keeps on growing and it now has more than 19,000 likes/followers. We use that page  to go a “bit wild” because there is no massive government there to restrain us. That page deals with China law, sure, but it also deals with politics, tourism, food and fashion, business, culture, language, and just about anything else China-related. Our goal with that page is to educate and entertain. Please check out our Facebook page too, by clicking here.

And last and least, after a three-year hiatus, I went back on Twitter and I even occasionally post there as well, especially to promote our own firm’s China and international events. Click here for that.