Monday, June 18, 2007

Chinese Franchise Regulation: What Next?

With the promulgation of three pieces of key legislation, the Regulations, the Disclosure Management Measures (“Disclosure Guidelines”), and the Registration Management Measures (“Registration Guidelines”), the Chinese government has made significant strides in creating a systematic, efficient, and predictable franchise regulation regime. Undoubtedly, a well-established regulatory system in a dynamitic and relatively new product/service distribution model—franchise will theoretically lead to greater success for franchisors and franchisees alike.

The recent published 2007 China Franchise Industry Report [Chinese only] provides detailed statistics on the tremendous growth of franchising in China. To illustrate, China boasts of franchise systems in excess of 2,600, and franchised units exceeded 200,000 by the end of 2006. All that growth happened in a matter of nine years, starting in 1997 with the enactment of an interim franchise adminitration regulation.

China currently has already two great things going for exponential growth of the franchise scene: a fairly well-established regulatory regime coupled with a market ripe for affordable, proven business investment opportunities.

So, what is left in the regulatory puzzle?

In comparison with the U.S. franchise regulations, China has not compiled a Uniform Franchise Circular Offering (“UFOC”), which is the standard information disclosure document for franchisors. The FTC has officially adopted the UFOC format with some changes in 2007, and franchisors to franchise in the U.S. will have to comply with the mandatory disclosure requirements by 2008. Will China institute a standard, uniform disclosure document similar in nature to the UFOC? Or will it elect to just let the Disclosure Guidelines and the Regulations serve as the regulatory blueprint for franchisor disclosure? The Chinese Ministry of Commerce issued some opinions during a press conference on June 15, 2007 relative to the implementation of the Disclosure Guidelines and Registration Guidelines.

In the conference, the speaker stated that: “the Ministry of Commerce will continue to improve regulations on disclosure and registration systems…” This is not a definitive answer as to whether a UFOC like document will be instituted in the future.

In addition, the speaker also indicated that on the agenda of the Ministry of Commerce with respect to franchising regulation are the following:

1. to continue research into franchise contract regulation so as to effectively avoid contract fraud;

2. to continue to look for solution to balance the rights and interests of both franchisors and franchisees; and

3. to ensure and guide the healthy development of the franchise industry in China.

While the Ministry of Commerce work on its "to improve-and-renew-agenda", the current regulatory regime should be sufficient to protect the interests of franchisors and franchisees.

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