China employment lawyersIn late 2017 an old and yet important set of China Employment laws —the Measures for Severance Payment due to Violation or Termination of Employment Contracts — issued by the then-Ministry of Labor back in 1995 was abolished by the PRC Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. Since our China employment lawyers keep getting questions regarding the impact of this change I am writing this post to provide some clarification.

The short answer is that there are no significant changes. The fundamentals of China’s employment laws have not changed. China is still NOT an employment at will jurisdiction and its employment laws remain very local. 

The old Measures provided guidance on how to calculate statutory severance. They had some special rules for calculating severance payments, including (1) how a 12-month cap on severance would apply to mutual terminations or terminations for incompetence, (2) how severance was to be calculated using the average monthly wage for the 12 months prior to termination under “normal productions conditions,” and (3) how to calculate severance for employees terminated after various leaves of absence, for employees with contracts that can no longer be performed due to major changes surrounding execution of the employment contract, and for mass layoffs.

Before these Measures were abolished, many Chinese arbitrators and judges held that they had already been partially annulled because they conflicted with the China’s Employment Contract Law, but the legal outcomes on this issue were inconsistent.

When China’s Employment Contract Law took effect on January 1, 2008, it made clear that for terminated employment contracts severance payments under Article 46 of this Law shall be calculated based on the number of years of employment from the implementation date of this Law. The basic rule under the Employment Contract Law is that for each year (which is any period longer than 6 months) an employee has worked for the employer, he or she is entitled to one month’s wages in severance. For any period of employment of less than 6 months, the employee is entitled to half a month’s wages. If an employee’s monthly wage exceeds 300% of the local average monthly wage for the preceding year, the local average can be used to calculate the severance payment. In this situation, the number of years of service used to calculate statutory severance is capped at 12 years.

But the Employment Contract Law left open how to deal with an employee whose employment started before January 1, 2008. Before the mentioned Measures were annulled they were still technically in effect and this created several different methods for calculating severance. Subject to varying local employment laws, the specific method depended on: (1) the employee’s years of service with the particular employer; (2) how much time the employee put in working for the particular employer before January 1, 2008; (3) the employee’s average monthly wage during the 12 months before the employment contract ended or was terminated; and (4) the basis on which the employment relationship terminated or ended.

Not much has changed with the annulment of the Measures, though as is pretty much always the case with China’s employment laws, many of the specific changes (and lack of changes) will vary depending on the locale in which the employer is located.

Suppose the Measures were still effective and the employer’s locale does not have different local rules. An employee who worked for her employer since June 1, 1995 is terminated pursuant to a mutual termination agreement signed on January 1, 2018, According to China’s employment laws, the employee must receive severance. How do you calculate this employee’s severance if her average monthly wage during the 12 months prior to termination was greater than 300% of the local average monthly wage for the preceding year? If you apply the rules within the Measures, you would divide it into 2 periods in calculating the severance: (1) for the period before January 1, 2008, at her average monthly wage during the 12 months prior to the termination multiplied by 12 (because it would be subject to a 12-month cap); and (2) for the period after January 1, 2008, the severance would be 300% of the local average monthly wage for the preceding year multiplied by 10.

After annulment of these Measures the severance calculations under the above scenario do not change much. You still must divide it into 2 periods. Period one is the period before January 1, 2008 and her severance for that period would be calculated using her average monthly wage during the 12 months prior to her termination, multiplied by 13 (since the 12 month cap no longer applies); for period two, the period from January 1, 2008, her severance would be 300% of the local average monthly wage for the preceding year multiplied by 10. As you can see, in this scenario, the annulment of the Measures will increase the employee’s severance by 1 month at the average monthly wage during the 12 months prior to termination.

So at the end of the day, the most important factors for calculating severance payments are still how much the employee made during the 12 months prior to termination and when the employee started working for the employer. And of course, what your local employment rules say as well.

But whenever our China employment lawyers deal with China employment severance situations, our advise is usually not to get too bogged down with the severance amount because by far the most important thing is to make sure your termination is lawful. If you lack a legal basis (again, both under China’s national employment laws and under the local laws that apply to your specific business) for the termination there is little point in spending time calculating whether you have applied all the applicable severance caps.

And it is in the termination itself where our China employment lawyers most often see the big mistakes. Far too often foreign companies doing business in China terminate employees without a legal basis to do so. The easiest and safest way to terminate a China-based employee will almost always be via a mutual termination, using the minimum statutory severance as a starting point in your settlement discussions with your departing employee. When dealing with a mutual termination situation, paying the employee more than the minimum statutory severance does not invalidate the mutual termination agreement and doing so often makes sense as a way to secure a fast and relatively amicable resolution.

China Manufacturing ContractsAs China and its laws change, the China lawyers at my firm must constantly adjust, usually just ever so slightly. This adjustment can include even how we draft our contracts for China. And oftentimes, with even small changes in how we draft our contracts, we make changes in the questions we ask to gather the information we need to draft a contract that suits both their situation and their goals.

The following is the initial email questionnaire our China manufacturing lawyers are currently using with companies looking to engage in OEM manufacturing in China. Our lawyers send this out and then review the responses, all as a prelude to drafting the  Manufacturing Agreement

 

 

The below is fairly comprehensive, but feel free to provide any additional information that you feel may be relevant. Please answer as much of the below as you can and to the extent any of our questions are irrelevant, please feel free to write N/A, but to the extent it might make sense for you to explain to us why something does not apply to you. Please do so. We will likely have followup questions depending on your responses to the below.

Note that the agreement we will be drafting for you will be intended for use within mainland China with manufacturers based in mainland China. It is not intended to be used with sourcing agents, nor is it intended for use in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, or any other country or administrative region outside China.

1. Basic Information

  1. For each entity that will be executing the agreement, please supply the full legal name, address, phone number, fax number, and URL, as well as the name, title, and email address of the representative who will be signing on behalf of that entity. (In both Chinese and English, as relevant.)
  2. Please identify the state in which your company is incorporated.
  3. Will you be using this OEM agreement only with this specific manufacturer, or are you hoping to be able to reuse it with other manufacturers?
  4. Please provide a copy of your Chinese counter-party’s business license.
  5. To the extent multiple entities will be involved in this agreement on the Chinese side, please identify each of these entities and describe their corporate structure. For instance, many OEM contracts involve one Chinese company that owns a factory and performs all manufacturing and a second company (usually based in Hong Kong) that issues invoices and receives payment.

2. Design Basics

  1. Do you anticipate the Chinese side will be performing any design work or customization as part of the manufacturing process?
  2. If not, are you ordering “off the shelf” products the Chinese side already manufacturers?
  3. If so, have you already entered into a design services agreement? What arrangements have you made regarding ownership of the designs, payment for the designs, milestones, and ordering obligations?

3. Manufacturing Basics

  1. Please describe each product the Chinese side will be manufacturing. Do you anticipate these products will change over time?
  2. What sort of volume are you expecting? Will the volume change over time? Have you have agreed to order a minimum number of products? If so, please provide details.
  3. Do you wish to prohibit subcontracting? Are you aware of any third parties that will be involved in manufacturing, packaging, or shipping your product? This includes any entities that may be owned by or otherwise affiliated with the Chinese contract party.

4. Pricing

  1. Have you determined the prices for the products yet? If so, please include the relevant details.
  2. How will pricing and related terms be negotiated? On a purchase order basis? On an annual basis? Some other way?
  3. Have you negotiated the payment terms? For instance, will you pay by letter of credit? By installments? If by installments, what are the amounts/percentages of those installments, and when are they due?

5. Purchase Orders, Shipments, and Inspections

  1. Do you have an existing purchase order you intend to use for your product orders from these manufacturer(s)? If so, please provide us with a copy.
  2. After receiving a purchase order, how long does the manufacturer have to accept or reject it?
  3. If you submit a purchase order and it is not accepted by the Chinese side, what happens? In other words, is the Chinese side bound for some period to make a certain amount of product at a certain price or only obligated to make product for you after it accepts your purchase order?
  4. What have you negotiated regarding shipping terms? For instance, how long after acceptance of a purchase order will goods be shipped? Will you be using a freight forwarder? From and to which ports will the goods be shipped? Will the goods be shipped FOB or CIF or something else?
  5. What arrangements will be made for packaging prior to shipment?
  6. When your products are shipped from China, what brand names, logos, and/or slogans will appear on the products and packaging? Please distinguish if possible between words and graphic logos.
  7. Where do you anticipate selling your products? In particular, will you be selling them in China?
  8. If you are selling any product in China, what brand names, logos, and/or slogans will appear on the product and on its packaging?
  9. Will any product you manufacture in China have a Chinese name? Does your company have a Chinese name? If so, please provide them.
  10. What sort of arrangements have you made for inspection and quality control during the manufacturing and packaging process (i.e., pre-shipment)? Exactly what should be done with any defective product discovered during the manufacturing process?
  11. What sort of arrangements have you made for inspection and quality control upon receipt (i.e., post-shipment)? Exactly what should be done with any defective product discovered then?

6. IP and other concerns

  1. What are your main concerns in this deal? Are you concerned with ensuring high product quality? Receiving products within the agreed-upon time?  Protecting your intellectual property (i.e., ensuring the Chinese manufacturer does not sell your product behind your back and/or steal your designs)? Pricing?
  2. Do you have any trademark registrations in China or anywhere else in the world (pending or otherwise)? If yes, please list them.
  3. Do you have any patent or copyright registrations in China or anywhere else in the world (pending or otherwise)? If yes, please lis them.
  4. Do you have a list of customers, suppliers, or other third parties you want to prevent the Chinese party from contacting

7. Tooling and Molds

  1. Will the Chinese manufacturer be using any tooling or custom molds to make your products?
  2. If so, does the manufacturer already have all of the tooling in question? Which party owns the tooling?

8. Warranty

  1. What sort of warranty terms have you negotiated or do you expect?

9. Term

  1. Have you determined the length of time this deal will be in place?

10. Other issues

  1. Has the Chinese manufacturer already signed any sort of term sheet, memorandum of understanding, letter of intent, or other document, even if only in English? If so, please provide this document.
  2. Have you previously purchased any products from this manufacturer? If so, please provide an example of the purchase order used.
  3. Are there any unresolved issues involving any previous manufacturers? For instance: have you gotten all of the tooling back from any previous factories? Are there any outstanding invoices or payments due?

China employment lawyerOn May 16 (at 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific and 5:00 pm. Greenwich Mean Time) Grace Yang, our lead China employment lawyer, will be putting on a webinar with HRWebAdvisor. Grace’s talk will last about 90 minutes and will run the gamut on China’s employment laws, with a particular focus on what foreign companies with China employees need to do not to run afoul of the myriad and complicated national and local employment laws. HRWebAdvisor describes Grace’s talk as follows:

China’s employment laws are complicated and highly local. Foreign companies doing business in China face complex China labor and employment issues and questions every day – often without even realizing it. What works in the United States has very little in common with what works in China. Employment compliance has become one of the most important issues foreign companies face in China and it is the rare foreign company that gets it right. Employee disputes are becoming considerably more common and government enforcement is getting significantly more stringent. It virtually always costs less for your company to deal proactively with China employment law issues than to wait to address them only after they have come via a dispute. As such, it is imperative that you understand the framework of Chinese employment law and steps you can take to mitigate risk.

Please join Grace Yang as she helps you better understand the Chinese employment law landscape. She will focus on helping you recognize key China employment issues and give you guidance on how to solve real-life China employment law issues and problems.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN

This webinar will cover the following:

  • The basics of China’s employment law rules
  • How to draft an employment agreement that works for your China locale
  • How to draft China employer rules and regulations (aka employee handbooks)
  • The other agreements you should consider for your China employees
  • Frequently contested issues, such as overtime, vacation days, commission payments, and leaves of absence
  • Employee terminations
  • HR audits AND MUCH MORE!

YOUR CONFERENCE LEADER

Your conference leader for “Chinese Employment Law Landscape: Key Issues and Staying Compliant in the Local Market” is Grace Yang. Grace heads Harris Bricken’s China employment law practice and contributes a weekly column about China employment law issues for the multi-award winning China Law Blog. Grace received her B.A. degree in law from Peking University and her J.D. degree from the University of Washington School of Law. She represents both China employers and employees in their China employment law matters. Grace published a book entitled The China Employment Law Guide.

Don’t miss it. To sign up for the live or recorded webinar, go here.

China AttorneysOne of the things my firm’s China lawyers are always saying and seeing is how China is constantly getting more legalistic, especially with foreign companies doing business in China. I used to believe this would lead foreign companies to become more careful, but this has not happened. Too many foreign companies — for all sorts of different reasons — remain far too nonchalant and increasing legalization only increases the likelihood this attitude will eventually harm them. In this series of posts (of which this is the first), I will write about the most common incidents our China attorneys see involving foreign companies that get into trouble in China for being careless or sloppy or just too trusting.

As for the title of this post, I have been studying Spanish for the last six months or so and oftentimes when I give a wrong answer my teacher will ask “¿Estás Seguro?” which means “are you sure?” I always respond by saying, “no, porque….” because I know she would not be asking this question if my answer were 100 percent accurate. I am asking the same question regarding China company formations because we far too often see instances where a foreign company believes one thing but the reality is something else entirely.

Forming a China company is a prime example of this, both with WFOEs and Joint Ventures. What usually causes the problem to bubble to the surface is different as between a WFOE and a Joint Venture, but what caused the problem in the first place is nearly always the same: the foreign company trusted without verifying.

The WFOE Problem. The WFOE problem is a somewhat simple one. The foreign company believes it has formed a WFOE in China (oftentimes long ago) and that it is now operating completely legally there. The foreign company typically then has a problem with its most important China “employee” and it wants to terminate that employee. The first thing our China employment lawyers usually do in this situation is to look at the official Chinese government corporate records for the WFO so as to get a better handle on the employee’s authority at the company. Sometimes we discover there is no WFOE.

At this point, the legal issue is no longer terminating an employee of a WFOE; it’s figuring out what makes sense in light of a messed-up China situation and a company’s present-day China goals. You cannot terminate an employee from a company that does not exist.

How does a company get to this point? What leads a company to believe it had a China WFOE when it didn’t? Ninety percent of the time the fatal mistake was trusting the person the company now wishes to terminate. That person claimed to have formed a WFOE for the foreign company but never did. Maybe he or she (though in my recollection it’s always been a he) formed a Chinese domestic corporation he owns. Or maybe this person never formed any Chinese entity at all. In any event, the foreign company  paid money to this person believing this money would be used to form a WFOE. Virtually always, the company then paid more money to this person believing this money would go to pay rent and personnel and taxes and other business expenses. Probably some of the money went to these things, but it is likely a good chunk of it went straight into the pockets of the person who lied about having formed the WFOE. Not sure why, the companies in this circumstance seem to be disproportionately Northern European. Just putting that out there.

The Joint Venture Problem. This is really two different problems. One, the non-existent Joint Venture, which is very similar to the WFOE problem, but usually a bit more complicated. The putative JV partner is put in charge of forming a China Joint Venture and it either does never forms any company at all or it forms a company in Hong Kong (or even in the United States, believe it or not!) that the foreign company believes to be a China Joint Venture. The foreign company thinks that the Hong Kong or US company owns a company in China and it thinks this corporate structure is itself a China Joint Venture. It isn’t and the China entity into which the foreign company ends up pouring time and money and technology is not in any respect owned by the foreign company. The foreign company then at some point becomes concerned about never having received any money from its Joint Venture and now the Joint Venture has gone completely silent and is not even responding to emails or the Joint Venture is now successfully competing directly with the foreign company. See China Scam Week, Part 6: The Fake Joint Venture.

Two, the foreign company trusted its Chinese Joint Venture partner and the lawyer its Chinese Joint Venture partner chose to prepare the necessary Joint Venture documents. Now there is a problem and those documents were written in such a way as to favor the Chinese side so completely there is nothing the foreign company can do to resolve it. See China Joint Ventures: The Tide is Out.

Do you have a Chinese company? ¿Estás Seguro?  Maybe you should double-check.

 

 

 

China IP lawyersChina (Shenzhen mostly) is the primary destination for manufacturing of small electronic consumer products. And since Internet of Things (IoT) products are red hot, this means our China lawyers get a steady stream of China IoT legal matters.

The big issue we most often see is this: the IoT product has now reached the mass production stage and is being produced in large quantities. Now that it has a commercial product, the U.S. or European (usually) buyer now seeks financing for its start-up company. The financier (be it angel, VC, private equity, or even someone’s father-in-law) then asks who owns the intellectual property in the product? With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), this question is often difficult to answer definitively.

How did we get to this point where the IP rights of a product are so often vague? The process has worked its way through three general stages:

Stage One. In the good old days (roughly 1981 to 1995), the situation was simple. There were two possibilities. In the first, the Chinese manufacturer made a standard consumer product. The foreign buyer purchased that existing product and perhaps required the Chinese manufacturer take the extra step of placing the buyer’s own trademark/logo on the product. In that setting, ownership of the intellectual property was clear: the Chinese manufacturer owned the product design and the foreign buyer owned its trademark/logo. In the second, the product was a long standing, well developed product of the foreign buyer. The foreign buyer brought the completed product to the Chinese manufacturer and contracted with the Chinese manufacturer to make a copy. In that setting, ownership of the intellectual property was clear: the foreign buyer owned all the intellectual property and the Chinese manufacturer owned nothing.

The simplicity of this sort of relationship encouraged the somewhat lazy practice of documenting the entire manufacturing relationship with purchase orders. NNN agreements, product development agreements and OEM agreements were seldom used, since IP ownership was clear and the price and delivery terms were resolved via the purchase orders. This approach would often lead to product defects, but that is for another post.

Stage Two. In stage two (roughly 1995 to 2015), a new form of manufacturer-buyer relationship developed. Foreign buyers began coming to China with no completed project in mind; they instead would come with a product idea or proposal. The foreign buyer would then work with the manufacturer to co-develop a product. In some cases the Chinese manufacturer would simply take a completed prototype and commercialize that prototype for mass production. In these cases, the foreign buyer arrived with little more than a basic idea and the two sides worked to co-develop the product. See China Product Development Agreements, for pretty much everything you need to know about China product development agreements.

The Chinese manufacturer usually would perform the product development work at its own expense, with the implied agreement being that it would be the exclusive manufacturer of the product. This co-development process typically used the same lazy “purchase order only” approach from stage one. This approach then led to the many issues we see today that make answering the “who owns what IP” question so difficult. To do the co-development process properly, the parties must define their relationship with three agreements: 1) an NNN Agreement, 2) a Product Development Agreement and 3) an OEM Agreement.

When these agreements do not exist, a standard set of issues arises: Who owns the product design? Who owns the molds and other tooling? Who owns the manufacturing know-how and similar trade secrets? If the buyer decides has the product made by a different Chinese factory, what compensation is owed to the Chinese manufacturer that co-developed the product? What are the  Chinese manufacturer’s obligations to comply with the foreign buyer’s price and quantity requirements? If the Chinese manufacturer terminates its relationship with the foreign buyer and manufacturers the product under its own trademark/logo, is this a violation of any agreement between the parties? Absent clear written agreements, none of these questions have clear answers. In these unclear situations, the Chinese factory will nearly always be in a much stronger position than the foreign buyer and the Chinese factory will typically prevail in any IP dispute.

Stage Three. In stage three (2015 to today), we arrive at the IoT era. In designing, developing and manufacturing consumer products for the IoT market, the already unclear and problem-filled relationships of the stage two era are now magnified. In the IoT era a whole new set of issues has arisen. In the stage two era, there was at least the simplicity of two entities designing and/or manufacturing a single product. In the IoT era, the situation is considerably more complex. In most of the IoT projects we have done, the development process has expanded to include the following:

1. Product “concept” from the foreign (usually United States or European) buyer.

2. Product external design, from an international design firm.

3. Internal design and function, owned by:

a. The foreign buyer;

b. The Chinese manufacturer;

c. The provider of sensors and other components required to connect the IoT product to an outside network.

4. Design of the IoT product “app” (usually for smart phones). This involves two completely separate sets of software: the communication sending software residing on the IoT product and the communication receiving software residing in the application. In the same manner as the internal design, these software components may be written/designed by multiple parties: the foreign buyer, the Chinese manufacturer and (quite often) third party software design firms.

What happens then when the product is complete, and manufacturing is ready to start and the foreign buyer starts to seek funding: The funding source almost invariably will ask who owns the IoT product? Who owns its underlying IP? What our China lawyers have far too often found when we ask the foreign buyers these questions is that they usually don’t really know.

This “we don’t know” response does not sit well with potential sources of serious financing. Even worse, when the foreign buyer is pushed to answer the question, it becomes clear that it is not clear who owns the new product. Far too often the only ownership issue that is clear is that the one entity that the foreign buyer is the one entity that does NOT own the rights to the product. Even worse, it is usually not possible to fix the situation by this point.

Bottom Line: As manufacturing in China and the IP issues attendant with that become more complex, it becomes even more important that you have clear written agreements that answer the obvious IP questions in advance. It does not make sense for you to devote your time and your energy and your money developing an IoT product for someone else to own.

For more on the issues involving China and the Internet of Things, check out the following:

China trademark lawyersForming a WFOE in China and then operating that business in China is difficult and expensive. See e.g., Forming a China WFOE: Ten Things To Consider and also Doing Business in China with Deportation or Worse Hanging Over Your Head on why having a WFOE is a must if you will be doing business within China. Because of this, our China lawyers are seeing increasing numbers of foreign companies choosing to sell their products in China via distribution relationships rather than via a WFOE. For the basics on what is involved in establishing a distribution relationship with a Chinese company, check out the following:

Today’s post focuses on some of the questions we often ask our clients that are looking to do distribution agreements with a Chinese company. It consists mostly of an amalgamation of emails from our China attorneys seeking more client information and providing additional client assistance before drafting a China distribution agreement.

 

I have the following basic questions and comments regarding your agreement.

1). For payment terms. The standard is as follows:

a. Shipping terms can be CIF or ExWorks. For products like yours, ExWorks is common, since estimating shipping and insurance costs can be quite difficult. If you do not know the port, you should not quote prices CIF and you should instead quote either Free Carrier (most common) or Ex Works. Either way, your distributor would be responsible for the shipping cost to the port of its choosing. It might be Shanghai for one shipment, it might be Qingdao for another shipment. That would be their decision and you want to leave the terms flexible so they can make the decision in a way that will not put you at a financial disadvantage.

I recommend you do not include price in the agreement but instead provide that your products will be sold at your normal distributor export price pursuant to a price list you will periodically provide to your distributor.

b. China’s letter of credit system is not very effective. If you ship your products before receiving payment for them, you are taking the full risk that the Chinese side will not pay. Our clients usually deal with this in two ways:

i. Conservative manufacturers require full payment before they ship.

ii. Less risk averse manufacturers ship on 30 days after the date of shipment (Net30) terms. These manufacturers provide for the right to shift to payment before ship terms if there is a problem.

2. You indicate wanting your proposed distributor to make advance payment for enough product to cover three months of projected sales. You need to specify an exact amount that must be purchased of each product and you also need to specify the sales terms. Your situation is further complicated by your not having Chinese government import approval yet for any of your products. For the first shipment, even where Net 30 terms are standard, most manufacturers require payment in advance of shipment. If you are not able to provide specific details in the agreement, we will provide that the exact terms of the first shipment will be determined after import approval is received. The agreement will terminate if that purchase is not completed by some certain date.

3. You have provided us with the sales milestones you want for your China distributor. This is always a good idea in a exclusive distributor arrangement but more detail is necessary, including the following:

a. You have discussed milestones for only one of your products. Will you have milestones for your other products as well? If yes, when will they be established and in what quantities?

b. Sales milestones for China distributors are usually set on a quarterly basis and not broken down by province. In formulating your sales milestones, you probably will want to account for the fact that there is not yet China government approval to import your products. If you plan to set sales milestones now for your other products we can do that as part of this agreement.

c. You can, of course, set the sales milestones at whatever level of specificity you desire. This is a business matter, not a legal requirement.

The issue of sales milestone is usually a big issue in this kind of agreement, so setting the milestones in a way that is clear and simple to understand is important.

4. When there is an exclusive agreement the term/length of the agreement becomes of critical importance. The normal procedure is to provide for a term long enough to give the Chinese distributor time to earn back its efforts in promoting your products. A three year term is typically the minimum, with five years more common. Most China distributors that plan to put in substantial work to market and sell your products will require the distribution agreement to automatically renew if they achieve their sales milestones. The China side will often want a provision saying that if the parties cannot agree on new milestones after the end of the first term, renewal will be automatic based on some predetermined formula. Chinese distributors that do not require something like this are oftentimes not planning to do the work necessary to succeed.

You mention wanting either party to be able to terminate the agreement with 90 days notice. Though such a provision is legally acceptable under Chinese law (which generally is far more liberal in what it allows in these agreements than either the EU or the United States), this sort of provision will normally be rejected by a serious distributor. Why would they do all the work necessary to get your product into China and to become well-known in China only to have you shut them down for any reason and with only three months notice?

5. When selling products in China, you need Chinese and English trademark protection for each product that will be sold. Serious distributors will insist that such protection is in place. Our China trademark lawyers can handle the appropriate China trademark registrations or you can have your distributor take care of this on your behalf as your agent. In either case, you should take care of the trademark registrations as soon as possible See China Trademarks: Register Yours BEFORE You Do ANYTHING Else. If your distributor takes care of this for you, you will want to ensure that the registrations are done in your name and not in theirs.

6. Your distribution agreement must be enforceable in the PRC. To make it enforceable we will draft it with Chinese law as the governing law, with the Chinese language as its controlling language, and with enforcement is in a Chinese court. For why we draft these contracts this way, check out China Contracts that Work and China Contracts: Make Them Enforceable Or Don’t Bother.

7. The confidentiality agreement you attach is not enforceable in China. See Why Your NDA is WORSE Than Nothing for China. Rather than draft a separate agreement, we will insert standard China NNN (non-use, no disclosure, non-circumvention) language into the main agreement.

8. The concepts of “hold harmless and indemnify” are pretty much foreign to the Chinese system and there is no effective commercial insurance program for this sort of coverage. We therefore normally provide a simple statement of the parties’ basic duties and liabilities. We normally provide that the distributor will be liable for damage caused to you by their actions in violation of the agreement. Since your proposed China distributor is a relatively small company you should assume it lacks the financial wherewithal to deal with a major claim and you should consider securing your own insurance.

9. I note that you are expecting your China distributor to do a fair amount of work prior before there will be a flow of products that will provide an income stream to your distributor to do that work. It appears you intend for your distributor to do this work at its own expense. In that regard:

a. Have you discussed this with your distributor? Have they agreed?

b. If you are expecting this preliminary work to be independent of the distributor achieving its sales milestones, the agreement should give you the right to terminate the contract if your distributor never does the preliminary work or does an inadequate job at it, solely in your discretion. You can do this by basing termination on your distributor’s failure to meet an early milestone or  by providing for a separate right to terminate. We should discuss.

 

For more on doing China distribution deals check out the following:

 

Sell to ChinaChinese companies tend to operate from the same playbook, oftentimes pushed down to them by the government or their trade or industry association. Chinese companies can go years without doing XYZ and then all of a sudden, the China lawyers at my firm will see five deals in a row where the Chinese company does XYZ. We have lately been seeing a slew of Chinese companies seeking to become distributors of foreign products via joint ventures, a structure that rarely makes sense for the foreign company. See China Joint Ventures: The Tide is Out.

Our foreign company clients that have their products made in China usually start by selling their products in North America, Europe, and/or Australia. But as China’s consumers continue growing wealthier and more sophisticated, Chinese companies are increasingly approaching foreign companies that have their products made in China with proposals to sell the foreign company’s products within China.

When the foreign company investigates the situation, it turns out that such sales are legally far more complex than they initially imagined. To legally sell their products within China, these foreign companies usually must first export their products out of China and then sell them back into China. This typically means having to pay VAT twice — on the export and again on the import. Chinese companies will often try to entice the foreign company with elaborate schemes that purportedly avoid such double taxation. Such schemes are usually either illegal or dangerous for the foreign party and they should virtually always be avoided.

The new thing in the China-side playbook is for the Chinese side to try to convince the foreign company to enter into a complex joint venture arrangement. The Chinese side pitches these arrangements by claiming it will allow the foreign company to participate in the product distribution business in China. Almost always, the foreign company would be better served by operating via the standard distribution model used throughout the world. The foreign company should purchase its product from its China manufacturer, receive that product outside China (in an export processing zone or when shipped) and then sell that product to a qualified China distributor. The foreign company should earn its profit from that initial sale, freeing it from concerns with the financial side of the Chinese operations. The foreign company buyer can and should strictly monitor the operations of its Chinese distributor through a standard distribution agreement. See China Distribution Agreements In Real Life.

If the foreign company buyer wants to support its China distributor, it is free to offer incentives, such as the following:

  • Not charging the distributor for sample product
  • Reducing prices for a certain number of products
  • Providing cash incentives for advertising
  • Funding the cost of certifications and registrations

The foreign company should insist on a standard distribution agreement that allows the foreign company to terminate if its China distributor does not perform. This distribution agreement should also give the foreign company buyer the right to terminate the China distributor for conduct that might put the foreign company or its reputation at risk. One major defect in any kind of partnership/joint venture approach is that it is difficult to hold the Chinese side to a tight performance standard when there is a business ownership relationship. It is like a marriage: easy to get into, but hard to get out of.

Due to the need to export the product from China and then ship it back into China, the China distributor often will establish an entity in Hong Kong to handle the operations. If the foreign buyer wants to take an ownership interest in the Hong Kong distributor, it can do that, but the basic rules should remain the same: The Hong Kong distributor should be treated as an arm’s length third party, operating under a standard distribution agreement with the foreign company earning its profits from sales to the distributor (profits now), not from a share of the distributor’s future profits at some inherently uncertain later date.

A foreign company will be able to exercise more control over its “Chinese partner” by entering into a distribution agreement than by entering into a joint venture relationship. Joint ventures are nearly impossible to control by a foreign company located thousands of miles away with no right to make a quick and decisive contract termination decision.

Western companies that understand China rarely want to get involved in product distribution in such a vast and complex market like China. However, companies inexperienced with China too often fall prey to the ill-conceived concepts — like joint ventures — their Chinese counterparts pitch to them for getting their products to China’s consumers.

In assessing a business proposal from China, you should abide by the following three rules:

  • You should be able to understand the proposal in a first reading.
  • You should avoid a business relationship you cannot end by a simple contract termination notice, and be wary of any proposal described as a joint venture
  • You should reject any proposal not supported by legitimate financial projections. A “business plan” consisting of fluff and fancy jargon that you don’t really understand does not count. If your Chinese counterpart cannot provide you with standard financial projections (hard numbers, not jargon), with each assumption clearly spelled out and supported with facts, walk away.
China joint venture lawyers
Smile. The fake China joint venture scam is easily avoided.

Our China lawyers have over the last few months have been getting way more emails and phone calls from foreign companies (U.S. and European) either telling us they’ve been scammed or seeking our assistance in determining whether they are about to get scammed.

Anyway, in recognition of this recent in scamming, I am writing (again) about the sorts of scams we usually see, along with providing tips on how to avoid them. In Part 1, I wrote about the scam of tricking someone to come to China to sign a deal. Part 2 was on the scam of getting money for supplying products and then supplying nothing or, more commonly, something that isn’t even close to what the foreign company bought and paid for. Part 3 was on the switched bank account, which is — by far — the most difficult to avoid scam. Part 4 was on a scam where a Chinese company gets you to provide it work or services (or perhaps even product) in return for stock or stock options that you can never really own because you are a foreigner. Part 5 involved a fairly recent, increasingly common, and highly sophisticated scam whereby a Chinese company claims to be interested in investing in a foreign company but in reality it has that interest only so far as it can use it to steal your IP.

This part 6 post is on what we call the fake China Joint Venture, and it is an oldy but a goody and — dare I say it — one of my favorites. The reason I say it is one of my favorites is because anyone who falls prey to it brings it on themselves, at least in part. Our China lawyers have seen this one quite often and as far as I know, it has always involved an American company, which I fear says something about American naïveté.

This scam is really very simple and it pretty much always goes down the same way. It starts with a Chinese company convincing a foreign company to do a joint venture. The foreign company then contributes something to the joint venture to secure its ownership stake in it. This contribution virtually always consists of money, but it also often involves other assets as well, such as intellectual property, equipment, personnel (usually unpaid) or know-how. The Chinese company says it will handle the setting up of the joint venture and the foreign company readily agrees to this.

But instead of actually setting up a real joint venture with the foreign company having an actual ownership stake in the new company, the Chinese side simply takes the assets from the foreign company and does nothing official towards forming a joint venture. Most of the time the Chinese company never even sends the foreign company any remotely official documents regarding the alleged joint venture, but sometimes it sends fakes. Either way, the end result is that the foreign company believes it to be the part-owner of a China joint venture and it starts acting accordingly.

Usually for years everything is fine, but then the foreign company begins to wonder why it has never received any money whatsoever from the joint venture when it now seems to be doing so well. So they contact their supposed joint venture partner (the Chinese company) and then when they fail to get any answers, they contact a China lawyer to look into bringing a lawsuit. The China lawyer does some quick research (and by quick, I mean really quick) and then realizes there is no joint venture.

In some circumstances it may be possible to sue individuals and companies outside China for fraud but for that to work you need for the foreign country to have subject matter and personal jurisdiction and even if both of these jurisdictions are present, one must still effect service of process under the Hague Convention and, perhaps most importantly, have some means of collecting on any judgment awarded. Foreign courts are not going to be quick to claim jurisdiction over the ownership of a company in China and Chinese courts are certainly not going to be very quick to say that a foreign court has the power to determine ownership of Chinese companies. All this combines to mean that in most instances the duped party has no good recourse.

How do you avoid this scam happening to you? Very very simple. You retain a qualified lawyer early on to make sure a real joint venture gets formed with your company as one of its owners.

US China Trade War
It will all be just so easy.

President Trump has his trade war, but it is not just against China. This trade war is the United States against the World. President Trump has announced tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports under Section 232 of the United States’ National Security law. It is important to note that because Section 232 is not a trade exception (such as Section 201 or antidumping and countervailing duty cases) approved by the World Trade Organization, other countries have the right to retaliate and retaliate they will. Of this I am certain.

Many countries around the World, including the EU, Canada, Mexico, and China, immediately threatened trade retaliation against U.S. exports.  Europe is talking about tariffs on U.S. exports of Harley Davidson Motorcycles, Jack Daniels Bourbon and blue jeans. China is talking about tariffs on U.S. agricultural exports, such a sorghum grain and soybeans.

To see the advice the President is getting one has to look no further than the statements made last month by United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer on Fox News about how it is ridiculous to think that the United States will get into a trade war with China and other countries over Section 232 cases. But the reaction of numerous countries to Trump’s announcement of tariffs on Steel and Aluminum imports shows Lighthizer’s statement was itself ridiculous. Lighthizer is Trump’s principle advisor on trade laws and trade agreements and this statement shows how badly he and the Trump Administration have misjudged the situation.

The major problem is that Lighthizer and Trump are focusing too much on the trade deficits and not enough on the enormous amount of U.S. exports. The United States exports roughly $2.4 trillion in goods and services per year so there are plenty of targets for retaliation.

On March 2, 2018, President Trump tweeted, “trade wars are good, and easy to win.”  But like pretty much all wars — both trade wars and real wars — the most common result is that no one really wins and everybody loses.

Both the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily disagree with the Trump trade war. In an editorial entitled, Trump’s Tariff Folly, the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote how these new tariffs on aluminum and steel will harm the United States both economically and diplomatically:

Donald Trump made the biggest policy blunder of his Presidency Thursday by announcing that next week he’ll impose tariffs of 25% on imported steel and 10% on aluminum. This tax increase will punish American workers, invite retaliation that will harm U.S. exports, divide his political coalition at home, anger allies abroad, and undermine his tax and regulatory reforms. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.7% on the news, as investors absorbed the self-inflicted folly.

Mr. Trump has spent a year trying to lift the economy from its Obama doldrums, with considerable success. Annual GDP growth has averaged 3% in the past nine months if you adjust for temporary factors, and on Tuesday the ISM manufacturing index for February came in at a gaudy 60.8. American factories are humming, and consumer and business confidence are soaring.

Apparently, Mr. Trump can’t stand all this winning. His tariffs will benefit a handful of companies, at least for a while, but they will harm many more. “We have with us the biggest steel companies in the United States. They used to be a lot bigger, but they’re going to be a lot bigger again,” Mr. Trump declared in a meeting Thursday at the White House with steel and aluminum executives.

No, they won’t. The immediate impact will be to make the U.S. an island of high-priced steel and aluminum. The U.S. companies will raise their prices to nearly match the tariffs while snatching some market share. The additional profits will flow to executives in higher bonuses and shareholders, at least until the higher prices hurt their steel- and aluminum-using customers. Then U.S. steel and aluminum makers will be hurt as well.

Mr. Trump seems not to understand that steel-using industries in the U.S. employ some 6.5 million Americans, while steel makers employ about 140,000. Transportation industries, including aircraft and autos, account for about 40% of domestic steel consumption, followed by packaging with 20% and building construction with 15%. All will have to pay higher prices, making them less competitive globally and in the U.S.

Instead of importing steel to make goods in America, many companies will simply import the finished product made from cheaper steel or aluminum abroad. Mr. Trump fancies himself the savior of the U.S. auto industry, but he might note that Ford Motor shares fell 3% Thursday and GM’s fell 4%. U.S. Steel gained 5.8%. Mr. Trump has handed a giant gift to foreign car makers, which will now have a cost advantage over Detroit. How do you think that will play in Michigan in 2020?

The National Retail Federation called the tariffs a “tax on American families,” who will pay higher prices for canned goods and even beer in aluminum cans. Another name for this is the Trump voter tax.

The economic damage will quickly compound because other countries can and will retaliate against U.S. exports. Not steel, but against farm goods, Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Cummins engines, John Deere tractors, and much more.

*    *    *    *

Then there’s the diplomatic damage, made worse by Mr. Trump’s use of Section 232 to claim a threat to national security. In the process Mr. Trump is declaring a unilateral exception to U.S. trade agreements that other countries won’t forget and will surely emulate.

The national security threat from foreign steel is preposterous because China supplies only 2.2% of U.S. imports and Russia 8.7%. But the tariffs will whack that menace to world peace known as Canada, which supplies 16%. South Korea, which Mr. Trump needs for his strategy against North Korea, supplies 10%, Brazil 13% and Mexico 9%.

Oh, and Canada buys more American steel than any other country, accounting for 50% of U.S. steel exports. Mr. Trump is punishing our most important trading partner in the middle of a Nafta renegotiation that he claims will result in a much better deal. Instead he is taking a machete to America’s trade credibility. Why should Canada believe a word he says?

The Investors Business Daily followed suit stating in its editorial, entitled Sorry, Mr. President: Your Trade Protectionism Will Cost The U.S. Dearly:

Protectionism is a political feel-good policy that does nothing for the economy. It’s a big cost with very few tangible benefits. That’s why President Trump has made a big mistake in imposing big tariffs on steel and aluminum.

We understand, of course, that President Trump feels beholden to his constituencies in the U.S. who have been hurt by foreign competition, particularly in basic industries like steel and aluminum. But the 25% tariff on steel and 10% tariff on aluminum that Trump seeks to impose will lead to higher prices for all, the loss of thousands of jobs and a political-crony windfall for a handful of big companies.

“We’re going to be instituting tariffs next week,” Trump told a meeting of executives at the White House on Thursday. “People have no idea how badly our country has been treated by other countries.”

We have no doubt that what Trump says is true. But if so, it should be remedied through trade talks, not a trade war.

And make no mistake: The broad nature of Trump’s tariffs, hitting all exporters to the U.S., will invite some kind of retaliation from those who’ve been hit.

Already, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is threatening to respond in kind: “We will not sit idly while our industry is hit with unfair measures that put thousands of European jobs at risk,” he said. “The European Union will react firmly and commensurately to defend our interests.”

*    *    *    *

Beijing is already looking at imposing trade penalties on U.S. sales of sorghum there, and may soon also target our sales of soy, too. Meanwhile, India, emboldened by the U.S. turn toward protectionism, might use Trump’s moves as a reason to protect its own wheat and rice sectors from U.S. imports.

So the steel and aluminum industry’s gains will be the loss of others.

Trump’s justification for tariffs is “national security.” But, as some have pointed out, the U.S. military uses only about 3% of domestic steel output, and much of our imported steel comes from allies like Canada. So the “threat” really isn’t much of one.

Of greater concern is what the higher prices for steel and aluminum — remember, a tariff is actually a tax — will do to our domestic economy.

As the R Street Institute think tank reminds us, “According to 2015 U.S. Census data, steel mills employ about 140,000 Americans, while steel-consuming industries, including automakers and other manufacturers who rely on imported steel, employ more than 5 million. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 jobs and $4 billion in wages were lost during the 18 months during 2002 and 2003 that President George W. Bush imposed tariffs on imported steel …” . . .

Protectionism is a bad road to travel. Let’s hope this move by President Trump is merely a negotiating ploy, and not a long-term policy. If it’s the latter, buckle up because we are going to be in for a long and bumpy ride.

President Trump has many times been called ignorant on trade, but the truth is that his trade views reflect the views of many Americans who believe that all (or at least most) imports are unfairly traded and who fail to understand the importance or profitability of U.S. exports.

For years, the U.S. Commerce Department has used a policy called zeroing, which allows it to create dumping rates when there simply were none. With China, Commerce creates dumping rates because it refuses to use actual prices or costs in China, instead using surrogate values from import statistics in 5 to 10 different countries to construct a cost. These faulty costing premises have now been used to justify a trade war with the World.

Foreign countries have many targets among U.S. exports against which they can strike back. This trade war will not be pretty and many Americans and American companies will be hurt. The rest of the world is likely to suffer as well.

There is still a small chance President Trump will back away from his tariff pronouncement. I sure do hope that happens.

China data protection lawyers
China data protection requirements

Earlier this year, China released the final version of the national standard on personal information protection, GB/T 35273-2017 Information Technology – Personal Information Security Specification (信息安全技术 个人信息安全规范) (the “Specification”).  The Specification will take effect on May 1, 2018.

The Specification is not a law or regulation that requires mandatory compliance. However, it likely will be relied on by Chinese government agencies as a standard to determine whether companies are following China’s data protection rules. Businesses that collect or process personal information in China should check their current practices against this Specification to identify and minimize their potential risks. The below provides the basics on this new Specification.

Personal Information and Sensitive Personal Information. Under the Cybersecurity Law of China, personal information means information that can be used to identify a person if used separately or in combination with other information. This new Specification expands this definition to include information that reflects a person’s activities, such as browsing history.

Sensitive personal information includes information that, if leaked, illegally provided or used inappropriately, will likely threaten personal and property safety and can easily harm personal reputation, physical or mental health or lead to discriminatory treatment. Examples of sensitive personal information include a person’s ID card number, bank account number, and personal information of minors of age 14 or younger.

Data Controller. The new Specification introduces the concept of a personal data controller, which means a natural person or an organization that determines the purposes and means for processing personal data. A data controller is responsible for compliance with applicable laws and regulations in the collection, retention, use, sharing and transfer of personal information, as well as in handling data breaches.

Data Collection. The new Specification states that collecting personal data should be done legally and minimally. It requires a data controller obtain consent from the personal data subject (the natural person whose data is being collected) and further requires explicit consent when sensitive data is being collected. There are a few exceptions when consent is not required. For example, when the collection and use of personal data is necessary for executing and performing contracts, for criminal investigation, or for news reports when the data controller is a news agency.

A data controller shall also establish and publish a privacy policy according to the Specification. A model privacy policy is also attached to the Specification.

Data Retention. Personal information must be retained for the shortest period of time and only to the extent necessary. After personal information has been collected, the data controller must de-identify such information and retain the de-identified information separate from any personal identifiable information. When a data controller ceases operations, it must stop collecting personal information, inform relevant data subjects of the same, and delete or anonymize all of the personal information it has retained.

Use of Data. A data controller must limit access to collected personal information to the minimum extent necessary. Data subjects have the right to access data and to rectify incorrect or incomplete data, the right to erasure and to data portability, as well as the right of account cancellation

Third-Party Processors; Sharing and Transfer of Data. When a data controller outsources data processing to a third party, the data controller must conduct a security assessment to ensure the third-party processor is capable of offering sufficient security. The data controller must also supervise the processor by audits and by imposing contractual obligations regarding data processing security.

If a data controller needs to share or transfer personal information, it must first conduct a security assessment, use effective measures to safeguard data subjects, inform data subjects of the purpose and the recipient of the data transfer and obtain prior consent (a separate consent in addition to the initial consent to collecting and processing data). If a data controller is acquired by or merged with other entities, it must notify the data subjects of this fact and its successor shall continue to perform the original data controller’s responsibilities and obligations.

Data Breach Incidents. Data controllers must have security incident response plans in place, provide periodic training and perform emergency drills at least annually. When a data breach occurs, the data controller must record the incident, assess potential impact and take remedial measures. It shall also notify affected data subjects of the incident by email, mail, phone, push notification, or other reasonable and effective method when individual notice is not practically possible.