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Export Processing Enterprises (EPEs) in Vietnam: A Comprehensive Guide

As Vietnam’s economic prowess continues to attract foreign investors seeking to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia, Export Processing Enterprises (EPEs) have emerged as a prominent vehicle for those eyeing the country’s robust manufacturing and export market. This article provides a comprehensive guide to EPEs in Vietnam, offering insights into their nature, establishment, eligibility criteria, and alternative avenues for export-oriented business activities.


What Are Export Processing Enterprises (EPEs)?


Export Processing Enterprises, commonly known as EPEs, are specialized business entities designed to operate within designated zones known as Export Processing Zones (EPZs) or in industrial parks (IPs). These entities are singularly focused on manufacturing products for export to international markets. Vietnamese law mandates certain facility requirements for EPEs, including separate facilities, port access, secure entrances and exits, and compliance with customs regulations related to non-tariff areas and import-export duties.


EPEs often navigate complex regulatory landscapes, encountering significant administrative procedures and strict tax and customs controls. These entities are geographically limited, with Vietnam having only four EPZs, two of which are already fully occupied. This limitation necessitates careful consideration of the location for companies aspiring to establish an EPE, particularly those intending to lease ready-built factories.


How to Set Up an EPE in Vietnam


The process of establishing an EPE in Vietnam is a multi-step endeavor, involving several key stages:


  1. Investment Registration Certificate (IRC): The first step entails obtaining an Investment Registration Certificate, a vital requirement for foreign investors looking to initiate an EPE.


  1. Enterprise Registration Certificate (ERC): Following the IRC, businesses must secure an Enterprise Registration Certificate. This certificate is essential for establishing a legitimate business entity within Vietnam.


  1. Certification of Eligibility for Export Processing Enterprises: This certificate, granted by the customs authority, is a critical prerequisite for EPEs. It involves rigorous field inspections by customs officers, which may require multiple visits until all requirements are met.


  1. Environment License: For EPEs engaged in activities producing emissions or waste, an environment license is mandatory.


  1. Product-Specific Permits: Depending on the nature of the goods produced, businesses may require additional permits.


It is crucial to be aware that companies aspiring to become EPEs must achieve this status within 12 months from the issuance date of the IRC. Failure to meet this requirement results in the loss of EPE status.


Eligibility Criteria for EPEs in Vietnam


To qualify for EPE status in Vietnam, businesses must satisfy an array of eligibility criteria. These include:


Product Focus: EPEs must primarily engage in the manufacturing and production of goods intended for export. Service-oriented businesses may not qualify.


Location: EPEs are typically located within designated zones, industrial parks, or specific regions in Vietnam. Businesses must establish their operations within these areas to access the benefits of EPE status.


Foreign Investment: Foreign investors seeking to establish an EPE must adhere to Vietnam’s foreign investment regulations, which can vary based on industry and location.


Export Percentage: A substantial portion of the goods produced within an EPE must be earmarked for export, with specific percentages varying between 70% to 100%.


Labor Laws: EPEs must comply with Vietnamese labor laws and regulations, covering employment contracts, working conditions, and wages.


Environmental Regulations: EPEs are required to adhere to environmental protection regulations and sustainability standards as defined by Vietnamese authorities.


Ownership Restrictions: Depending on the industry and location, some restrictions may apply to the maximum percentage of foreign ownership in EPEs.


It is imperative to stay up-to-date with the latest regulatory changes and consult local authorities or legal experts when considering the establishment of an EPE in Vietnam.


Investment Incentives for EPEs:


Vietnam offers a range of investment incentives for EPEs, including:


Corporate Income Tax (CIT): The CIT rate and exemption period are contingent upon the location and business activities of both EPEs and non-EPEs.


Custom Duties: EPEs enjoy exemption from import and export duties, whereas non-EPEs may be subject to duties on imported raw materials, which can potentially be refunded based on certain conditions.


VAT: EPEs are exempt from Value-Added Tax (VAT), while non-EPEs are subject to the standard VAT rate. Non-EPEs engaged in export activities may qualify for VAT refunds if specific criteria are met.


Land Rent and Land Use Tax: Both EPEs and non-EPEs may be eligible for exemptions or reductions in land rent and land use tax, depending on their location and business activities.


Alternative Options for Exporting in Vietnam


While EPEs present a compelling option for businesses aiming to tap into Vietnam’s export market, they may not suit every enterprise. Here are some alternative avenues for companies seeking access to Vietnam’s booming export market:


Foreign Direct Investment (FDI): Businesses can opt for traditional FDI by establishing operations outside of designated export zones. FDI regulations vary and can offer flexibility and lower capital requirements compared to EPEs.


Joint Ventures: Collaborating with a local Vietnamese partner through a joint venture can provide foreign businesses with local expertise and resources, enabling risk-sharing and mutual benefits.


Import-Export Licenses: Companies can acquire import-export licenses to engage in trade in Vietnam, which is particularly suitable for businesses not involved in manufacturing but still wanting to participate in the country’s trade activities.


E-commerce Platforms: The growth of e-commerce in Vietnam has created opportunities for businesses to reach Vietnamese consumers without establishing a physical presence in the country, offering a cost-effective way to enter the market.


Outsourcing: Companies can outsource manufacturing or other business operations to Vietnamese firms, reducing the need for a physical presence in the country while taking advantage of Vietnam’s competitive labor costs.


In conclusion, Export Processing Enterprises have played a significant role in Vietnam’s economic transformation, attracting foreign investment and facilitating the country’s integration into the global economy. However, the establishment of an EPE in Vietnam may not be straightforward, and it’s crucial for businesses to carefully consider the eligibility criteria and explore alternative options that align with their objectives and resources when seeking to enter Vietnam’s vibrant export market. Always seek guidance from legal and industry experts to navigate the ever-evolving regulatory landscape effectively.


For businesses looking to explore specific industrial zones in Da Nang, Vietnam, please refer to the following:


Long Hau High Tech Factory | Da Nang High Tech Park

Dien Nam-Dien Ngoc Industrial Park

Da Nang Information Technology Park

Expanded Hoa Khanh Industrial Zone in Da Nang

Lien Chieu Industrial Park – Da Nang City