As the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic continues to unfold, Tilleke & Gibbins is dedicated to ensuring that you receive the most up-to-date legal developments across Southeast Asia, in a practical and direct format, to ensure that your business can comply with new regulations quickly and effectively.
With the situation developing rapidly, we understand that it can be difficult to keep up with developments, and as such we will be sending a weekly round-up of the key developments in the region. In addition, all our articles and alerts are available in full at the Tilleke & Gibbins COVID-19 Resource Center.
Here are the most significant developments as of April 23, 2020.
- Cambodia. Cambodia formally imposed a state of emergency on April 10, granting broad executive powers similar to those already imposed in other jurisdictions. International travel has been curtailed or heavily restricted, and extensive restrictions on freedom of movement were implemented to limit the spread of the virus during the Khmer New Year period, which came to an end on April 16. Loan restructuring plans for certain sectors are being made available, and limited financial relief is available to employers and employees that have been forced to suspend operations, as companies begin to make difficult decisions about their workforce. The Prime Minister has urged the private sector to reduce or defer rental fees, but no legal requirement to do so is yet in place. Particular emphasis has been placed on the need to financially assist educational institutions, in the form of rent and debt relief by landlords and commercial banks, but again this is a recommendation, not a requirement. Courts and government offices, including the Ministry of Commerce and the Department of Intellectual Property, remain fully operational.
- Indonesia. In response to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the Indonesian Ministry of Health has implemented detailed guidelines for large-scale social restrictions (known as pembatasan sosial berskala besar or PSBB), which have now been extended until May 22. PSBB has been applied in two provinces so far—Jakarta and West Sumatra—and may be extended to others in due course. Although the restriction has wide-ranging effects on many business sectors, IP owners are still able to exercise their rights by registering them through the online system of the Directorate General of Intellectual Property (DGIP), and the online system has, as of April 22, been expanded to include appeals. In addition, although courts have postponed some cases, online trials are available and ongoing subject to the discretion of the presiding judge in each case. A full update of the impact on the IP system is available here.
- Laos. Now under sweeping lockdown measures, the majority of Laos residents must remain in their homes, and many businesses and government offices deemed nonessential, including the Department of Intellectual Property, are closed. The lockdown has now been extended to May 3, with corresponding extensions for filing financial statements, visa overstay fine exemptions, and tax exemptions. Instructions were issued on April 21 for requirements that companies must meet before reopening, but the timeline for doing so is not yet known. Guidance has been issued for sectors that remain operational. The Bank of Laos has provided debt relief guidelines, but they do not yet have legal weight. A raft of economic support measures are intended to limit the impact and redirect funds to the COVID-19 effort.
- Myanmar. The Myanmar government has implemented lockdown measures and curfews, and is in the process of investigating companies to determine whether they should be permitted to operate during this period. Only those that meet certain requirements will be permitted to do so. Government offices, including courts and IP filings, remain operational on a 50% staff rotation system, although the planned soft opening of the new trademark system has been indefinitely postponed.
- Thailand. The Thai government is debating whether to extend lockdown measures, which are currently due to end on April 30, and all visas for non-Thai citizens already in the country have been automatically extended through the end of July. Many court hearings are postponed, but government offices, including the Ministry of Commerce and Department of Intellectual Property, remain open and fully operational. Blanket permission has been granted to hold AGMs and shareholder meetings entirely by electronic means for the first time, and social security measures for those impacted have come into force, including a new definition of force majeure under the social security law to include the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has approved numerous economic relief measures for businesses, in the form of debt relief for commercial loans, extensive tax relief measures and the provision of soft, low interest loans to SMEs. Despite these extensive measures, many companies are being forced to make difficult decisions relating to their workforce, and debtors and creditors are reviewing their options under Thai law.
- Vietnam. Vietnam’s lockdown measures, and their clarifying guidelines for implementation, have been extended to April 22 or 30, depending on the level of risk from location to location. Financial relief for both employers and employees has been announced, and tax and land rental relief has been provided for companies in certain sectors. Many government offices, including the Intellectual Property Office of Vietnam, are physically closed until further notice, but continue to accept filings through online means. IP deadlines falling between March 30, 2020, and April 30, 2020, will automatically be extended until May 30, 2020. Courts remain open with limited operations. Faced with potential default on contractual obligations, many companies are seeking relief under the often-misunderstood force majeure laws or through difficult HR decisions.
If you have any queries about how any of these measures may affect your business operations across Southeast Asia, please contact [email protected].