Wednesday, June 27, 2007

American Passport & China Franchise Registration

What do getting an American passport and registering a franchise in China have to do with each other? Normally, I would say NOTHING unless you have to register your franchise personally in China (which by the way is totally unnecessary).

Now, I think one word accurately describes them both---hard.

If you are an American and you need a passport to travel this summer, my deepest sympathy goes to you for what will have to endure to acquire it. Images of people encircling a passport office in the summer heat makes me feel lucky about my passport experience in China seven years ago.

The Bush Administration initiated a new security rule requiring all U.S. citizens to show their I.D. and proof of U.S. citizenship at border crossing. (Read about it here.) This requirement threw Americans quiet a bit, and a large number of Americans began to apply for a passport at the beginning of 2007. Passport offices, faced with a sudden increase of applications, are not equipped with the necessary personnel and equipment to process the applications, thus generating a back log of applications. When travelers figured out that if they do not do something to speed up the application process, they would not be able to leave the country as planned. Hence, the long lines.

The root of the problem is governmental regulations without the requisite resources to carry them out.

Chinese franchise regulators have created just the same problem. Three pieces of franchise regulations went into effect on May 1, 2007:

Regulations for the Administration of Commercial Franchising Operations
Commercial Franchise Registration Management Measures
Commercial Franchise Information Disclosure Management Measures

These new regulations did away with pre-approval in order to franchise in most industries in China. However, they impose mandatory registration and disclosure duties on franchisors. For American franchisors, registration and disclosure are nothing new because disclosure is required under the FTC Franchise Rule, and 15 states require registration as well. Registration of franchises, however, is new to both Chinese franchisors and regulators in that it has not been done before, and administrative glitches abound, to say the least.

Both local and central governments are not adequately equipped and prepared to implement the registration rules. Registration of a franchise in China involves a large quantity of paper work to be reviewed by regulators, and documents filed by franchisors are to be archived by the government. In addition, franchisors are required to amend material changes and file annual reports with the regulators. These mandates inevitably necessitate personnel, equipment, office space, and other resources.
A lack of planning and preparation is not the end of the story. At the end of 2006, China has about 26,000 franchise systems in place according to an industry report. Mandatory registration requirement means all of the 26,000 plus franchise systems must be registered before May 2008 to avoid administrative penalties. Imagine the amount of documents, the volume of phone calls, and number of inquiries that the regulators would have to keep up with. I am not even counting all of those foreign franchisors impatiently waiting to cash in before the 2008 Olympic gold rush.

The Chinese franchise regulators are not prepared, if not overwhelmed, to carry out rules made by the government.

With due respect to regulators in China and the U.S or elsewhere, regulating personal or commercial activities ain’t as simple as passing a law (sorry to state the obvious). Before making people do or not do something, it benefits all if the government would do a little bit more planning.


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