China: 《外商投资法》留白的若干实务问题探讨

Last Updated: 28 March 2019
Article by Wei (David) Chen, Yuan Wang and Jie (Jessie) Dong
Most Read Contributor in China, March 2019

2019年3月15日,第十三届全国人大第二次会议通过了《中华人民共和国外商投资法》("《外商投资法》"),该法将于2020年1月1日起实施,届时《中华人民共和国外资企业法》("《外资企业法》")、《中华人民共和国中外合资经营企业法》("《合资企业法》")和《中华人民共和国中外合作经营企业法》(合称"外资三法")将废止。《外商投资法》对外商投资事项做出了原则性或指导性的规定,但对不少理论和实践中的热点和争议问题采取了留白处理。因此,如何解读、面对该法的留白之处,对于落实其原则、促进其与其他法律配套、在实践操作层面顺利对接等,意义重大。

一、《合资企业法》下的治理结构在过渡期如何调整

《外商投资法》第42条规定,按照外资三法设立的外商投资企业,在《外商投资法》施行后五年内,可以继续保留原企业组织形式等,但具体实施办法由国务院规定。《外商投资法》上述关于过渡期的原则性规定,无疑将引发关于现有合资企业治理结构变更与实践操作对接等问题的思考。

相较于《公司法》的规定,现有合资企业的企业组织和治理体系存在诸多特殊之处,例如合资企业不设立股东会,董事会为合资企业的最高权力机构;中外投资者一方委派董事长的,由另一方委派副董事长。《合资企业法》废止后,合资企业按照《公司法》的规定调整公司治理机构,将不可避免地对合资企业现有组织机构、议事机构设置和相关规则造成重大影响。此外,《合资企业法》下,合资企业的注册资本增加或减少属于董事会的法定职权,该等事项需经出席董事会的所有成员一致通过;而根据《公司法》的规定,该等权限将归属于股东会,仅需经公司股东三分之二有表决权的股东通过即可。在《合资企业法》废止后,该等调整将势必带来一轮中外合资方之间就公司决策和治理机制的重新谈判、妥协、甚至争议。

《外商投资法》虽规定了五年的过渡期,但并未对过渡期内合资企业可以保留的"原组织形式等"如何过渡予以明确界定,因其直接关系到合资企业各方的核心利益,必将成为各方重点关注问题。

二、如何界定外商投资

《外商投资法》第二条规定,外商投资指外国的自然人、企业或者其他组织直接或者间接在中国境内进行的投资活动,并列举了外商直接投资的三种方式即:新设、获取和扩大。但《外商投资法》对间接外商投资的种类并未予以明确规定,仅是通过兜底条款"法律、行政法规或者国务院规定的其他方式的投资"进行了留白处理。实践中关于外商投资界定有争议的常见情形,例如中国企业或个人通过其收购或控制的境外企业在中国拥有子公司(即返程投资),由中国企业或个人持有但由外国投资者实际控制的企业(即VIE结构),是否属于外商投资仍未予以澄清。为此,将来的配套措施需要解决的关键问题应包括:外商投资界定是按形式还是按实质?对外国投资者的判断以注册地为标准还是以"控制"为标准?返程投资是否会纳入外商投资管理的范围?对外商投资的准入是否会实施穿透管理?港澳台投资者是否属于外国投资者?自然人变更国籍后(包括外国自然人变更为中国国籍和中国公民变更为外国国籍),其对中国的投资是否属于外商投资?

现行实践中,存在着重形式而非实质的问题,如返程投资,实质是中国企业或个人在境外的投资,但形式上是国外企业持有,就被当成了外国企业对待;再比如,VIE结构,实质是外国公司或个人控制中国公司,形式上是中国个人持有,却享受了中国公司的待遇。界定外国投资者,除了界定标准,还是涉及不同法律部门和行政部门,如商务、市场监管、外汇等部门的协调,却非易事,但这是一个基础问题,希望有关部门尽快立法界定。

三、中国自然人是否可以成为外商投资企业的股东

在《合资企业法》和《合作企业法》下,中国自然人不能与外国投资者共同举办合资企业或合作企业(但某些例外情形除外,例如并购背景或国内特定区域)。在《外商投资法》下,外国投资者的范围仍然沿用和包含了"外国的自然人、企业或者其他组织",但对中国投资者的定义并未进一步明确。

在2015年公布的《外国投资法草案》中,中国投资者曾被定义为包含"具有中国国籍的自然人",当时被视为是国家将允许中国自然人与外国投资者共同创设合资企业和合作企业的先兆。

但是,《外商投资法》对中国投资者的范围并未作进一步限定或禁止性规定,根据法无禁止即可为的原则,可以预见中国自然人被允许投资合资企业或合作企业的可能性很大。在实践中,中国自然人投资合资企业/合作企业在内的外商投资企业将在何时以及如何放开,可能还需时日以及配套措施和政策的支持。

四、收益自由汇出如何"依法"实现

外国投资者重点关注的问题之一是外国投资者汇出其依法所得收益的规定。《外商投资法》第二十一条规定,"外国投资者在中国境内的出资、利润、资本收益、资产处置所得、知识产权许可使用费、依法获得的补偿或者赔偿、清算所得等,可以依法以人民币或者外汇自由汇入、汇出"。

由于该条规定使用了"自由"汇出的字眼,不少外国投资者理解为其收益可以没有约束地兑换成外汇汇出。该解读忽略了本条规定中"依法"的含义,所谓"依法",按现行法律,就是指外国投资者经过合法审批或登记后,汇入其出资和汇出其收益。

根据国家外汇管理局2013年颁布的《外国投资者境内直接投资外汇管理规定》,外商投资企业办理外汇业务(例如利润、知识产权使用费汇出)需提交申请材料,且银行将对外商投资企业所提交的申请材料进行真实性、一致性审核。在实践操作中,办理利润汇出,银行会核查公司完税证明、审计报告、批准分红的董事会决议等。

在现有管理体系下,外国投资者在汇出其合法收益时,要分别履行税务、银行、外汇主管机构多个机构的手续,确实存在着不便利之处。希望《外商投资法》实施后,相关权力机关会配套颁布更多的便利外商投资企业资金自由汇出的相关措施,以进一步兑现该法提出的"自由"汇出原则。

五、地方优惠政策与承诺如何兑现?

外商投资落地中国需要考虑多种因素,地方政府的优惠政策和承诺是投资者选择投资地不可忽视的重要因素之一。《外商投资法》明确了有关地方政府制定和履行优惠政策的原则:

  • 县级以上人民政府可以依法在法定权限内制定优惠政策;
  • 地方政府制定外商投资规范性文件,应符合法律规定,且不得低于或减损法律的规定;
  • 地方政府和部门应当履行依法作出的承诺和签订的合同;
  • 改变承诺和合同约定应是因国家利益和社会公共利益所需,且须根据法定程序进行;
  • 如果改变承诺和合同约定的,应补偿外国投资者和外商投资企业的损失。

投资优惠政策出自地方政府,实践中,外国投资者最关注的是地方政府的承诺是否能够兑现,如果不兑现是否有救济措施。结合我国的司法实践,保障外国投资者在优惠政策的权益关键在于:地方行政允诺是否违反法律禁止性规定;投资方应与地方政府部门签订与优惠政策相关的书面协议。

《外商投资法》是一部特定历史时期的基础性法律,难免搁置一些问题,有关各方积极参与探讨留白的问题,将促进该法相关配套法规的建设和完善。我们期盼监管机构尽快颁布具体的具体法规和实施办法,明确实践中的疑难问题、为新旧法律更替期间外商投资企业的设立、经营提供指引。此外,我们建议中外投资者密切关注国家将发布的配套法规和规章,并仔细审视现有的法律关系,提前作出相应的准备,平稳的度过过渡期。

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