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(Eng/Chi) Fighting the Coronavirus - Key Legal Challenges and Solutions

  • Asia
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03-02-2020

Overview

On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) in response to the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, the sixth time that the WHO has made this declaration since adopting the PHEIC procedure in 2005.

The spread of the coronavirus gives rise to commercial and practical issues for businesses in China and globally. A number of countries have suspended travel and freight to and from China, while there are also similarly severe restrictions within China, and some have even evacuated their citizens from Wuhan. In addition, while the Chinese government has extended the Lunar New Year holiday until 2 February, some regions (such as Shandong, a Chinese oil refining hub) have asked businesses not to resume their operations before 10 February.

The outbreak and the measures undertaken by the Chinese Government to contain it, are already resulting in serious business disruption for a number of companies and based on our experience of previous outbreaks such as SARs, the impact only promises to worsen. Examples of businesses most affected are (i) those that rely on international trade that will be disadvantaged by trade restrictions, delays and deviations in deliveries, port closures etc; (ii) the Chinese shipbuilding and construction industry that is already affected by extensions in holidays, lack of work force, dwindling food supplies etc; (iii) transportation industry with vessels being deviated or held away from Chinese ports; and (iv) commodities and energy trading.

Force majeure

Companies suffering from or concerned about potential business disruption should start reviewing their existing contractual arrangements to determine what the legal implications of the outbreak and measures to contain it will be. It is common for commercial contracts to contain provisions which permit the suspension of services as a result of certain events which make the performance of a party’s contractual obligations in the time and manner specified in the contract impossible or commercially impractical. Such events are ordinarily categorised as ‘force majeure’ events, although different terminology may be used depending on the contract.

Much depends on the governing law of the contracts. Force majeure is a principle borrowed from the French civil code, whereby a party will not be liable for its failure to perform an obligation where this failure has been caused by the occurrence of exceptional events outside that party’s control. The civil code of many other civil law jurisdictions will prescribe the definition of what is meant by force majeure in that jurisdiction. For instance, Article 117 of the PRC Contract Law defines force majeure as an objective event or circumstance which is unforeseeable, unavoidable and insurmountable. If the governing law of the relevant contract is English law, the concept of force majeure is not automatically read into the contract and will need to be a contractual right agreed by the parties. If there is no force majeure provision in your contract, you will need to consider other remedies (detailed below).

The precise meaning and effect of a force majeure clause will depend on the specific wording of the clause and its interpretation under the relevant governing law of the contract. There are however a number of points that need to be taken into consideration by companies over the next few days and weeks before they invoke the force majeure provisions of a contract or when they receive a force majeure notice:

  1. Does the outbreak or the measures undertaken by the Chinese government or the governments of other countries affected by the coronavirus fall within the definition of force majeure in the contract? Some contracts include a defined list of such events that will constitute force majeure events. Commonly listed events of force majeure include: acts of God (including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides); natural catastrophes; plague or epidemic; wars, invasion, armed conflict; blockades, embargoes; sabotage; nationwide strikes; acts of government etc. This outbreak is quite interesting in that it involves a naturally occurring epidemic as well as a number of government actions such as the quarantines, extended holidays, transportation blockages etc. Other contracts simply define a set of criteria which must be met for the event to be considered a force majeure event (for example, the event be beyond the reasonable control of the party or cannot have reasonably been foreseen by the parties).
  2. Has (or will) the outbreak or the measures undertaken by the Chinese government or the governments of other countries impacted upon performance or the performance of one’s contractor or contract counterparty under the relevant contract? It will be rare for a force majeure clause not to require that the force majeure event must have an impact on the performance of the contract. The degree of impact (e.g., whether performance must be impossible or merely materially affected) will depend on how it is defined in the relevant contract and the applicable governing law.
  3. Does the force majeure clause include any other provisions which need to complied with? For example, a contract may provide that a party looking to serve a force majeure notice should notify the counterparty within a specified time frame or using a particular method (such as service of notice in writing by post rather than electronically by email). It is extremely important to note that such provisions may in effect be conditions precedent to the affected party’s right to rely on the force majeure clause. There may also be obligations in the force majeure clause or the applicable governing law that require the affected party to take certain steps to avoid or mitigate against the impact of a force majeure event. Therefore, if the affected party does not comply with all the requirements its non-performance may not be excused.
  4. Under English law the burden of proof is on the party seeking to rely on force majeure provisions to prove that an event gives rise to a permissible delay, which had the effect of preventing it from performing its obligations under the contract. Therefore, companies seeking to rely on force majeure clauses should obtain as much information as possible about the events affecting them, including the timing, the number of impacted parts/facilities, and when the force majeure event is expected to conclude. Companies who are currently in receipt of force majeure notices from their contractors or contract counterparties should respond requiring them to provide complete information in relation to the force majeure event and how it has affected the relevant party.

It is possible that the contract in question also provides that if the services are suspended for longer than a specified time period then one or more parties may terminate that contract. It is therefore crucial that companies make themselves aware of any deadlines set out in the contract where the force majeure provisions have been invoked. If attempts to resolve the issues giving rise to the suspension are unsuccessful (or if alternative arrangements cannot be put in place) then the party relying on the force majeure provisions may wish to discuss agreeing an extension with the counterparty closer to those deadlines. In addition to evaluating force majeure provisions in contracts, it would be advisable for companies to also consider what avenues of redress, including dispute resolution mechanisms, are provided for in such agreements in relation to any costs or losses arising out of or in connection with the non-performance of contractual obligations.

Force majeure shield

The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) is offering force majeure ‘shield’ certificates to companies based in China that are seeking to rely on provisions enabling them to suspend performance of their contractual obligations. Affected companies will need to submit certain documentation to the CCPIT before obtaining the certificates (such as proof of delays or transport cancellations). What is unclear at this stage is how such certificates will fit within the contractual force majeure regime that the parties have agreed.

Frustration and hardship

If the contract does not have permissible delays or other force-majeure type events, then parties will need to consider alternative routes through which to obtain relief. Where the governing law is English law, the common law doctrine of frustration may be invoked in certain limited circumstances. If a contract has been frustrated, it will be terminated so that the parties are excused from further performance. However, in order for a contract to be frustrated, the event in question must be unforeseen, have occurred without the fault of either party to the contract and it must either make the contract’s performance impossible or it must destroy the fundamental purpose of the contract.

If the governing law is PRC law or the contract at issue contains a hardship clause, a party may argue that the coronavirus outbreak has caused hardship on such party and the contract should be either adapted or terminated. Under PRC law, if as a result of unpredictable and exceptional events that are not of a nature of commercial risk and caused by force majeure, the performance of the contractual obligation becomes unconscionable or the purpose of the contract has been frustrated, a party may resort to the courts. If the court finds hardship exists, it may either terminate the contract or adapt the contract in accordance with the fairness doctrine. However, PRC courts tend to be quite cautious in finding the existence of hardship and such finding by lower-level courts is subject to approval by higher-level courts.

Long-term LNG purchase arrangements

The above discussion in relation to force majeure and similar delayed performance provisions is based on the assumption that such provisions will provide immediate relief to parties affected by the outbreak and associated containment measures. Companies, including Chinese businesses, may however also be party to contracts where the underlying obligations will still need to be performed albeit at a later point in the contract year. For example most long-term LNG sale and purchase agreements, have annual volume commitments that can be postponed to later in the year. Therefore, the impact on the ‘take’ obligation of an LNG end-user cannot be fully assessed at this stage nor can the ability to obtain relief from performance.

International Trade

There are a number of countries that have imposed temporary entry bans on Chinese citizens or recent visitors to China. However, as far as trade is concerned, we are not aware of any import or export restrictions imposed by the WHO, the PRC government, or other countries that are specific to the outbreak of coronavirus. In fact the WHO has recently reminded the global community that under Article 43 of the International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005), parties implementing additional health measures that significantly interfere with international traffic (e.g. refusal of entry or departure of international travellers, baggage, cargo, containers, conveyances, goods, and the like, or their delay, for more than 24 hours) are obliged to provide to the WHO the public health rationale and justification within 48 hours of their implementation. The WHO will review the justification and may request countries to reconsider their measures.

Depending on how the situation develops in relation to the spread of coronavirus, it remains to be seen whether governments around the world may unilaterally introduce restrictions on trade. Nevertheless, it is anticipated that the outbreak will cause practical difficulties, disruptions and delays in international trade due to the measures undertaken to contain the virus, such as additional entry-check and quarantine procedures.

Charter Parties

The coronavirus outbreak may give rise to a number of legal questions in relation to charter parties, including potential port closure, deviations, suspension or termination of shipments. If a port is closed or rendered unsafe due to the coronavirus outbreak then the charterers may need to nominate an alternative port. At present, however, it does not appear as though coronavirus has reached a stage where closure of Chinese ports is, or might be, contemplated due to safety reasons. A ship owner would therefore have to consider the issue very carefully before refusing an order to a port on the basis of disease risk. In case of any delays to a charter caused by deviation (e.g. landing a crew member due to illness) or quarantine, (in a time charter) the vessel might be declared off-hire as a result of a time charter’s hire/off-hire provisions or (in a voyage charter ) such deviation will usually be at the expense of the vessel owner (other than in certain circumstances provided for under the Hague or Hague-Visby Rules). In addition, vessel owners affected by coronavirus may seek to suspend (or terminate) a charter party relying on force majeure. Please see above (Force Majeure) for our discussion on the required elements of a Force Majeure claim.

Employers

From an employer’s perspective, companies operating in China should comply with and take guidance from the Chinese government’s notices and regulatory documents amid the coronavirus outbreak. As mentioned above, the PRC central government has issued a notice extending the Lunar New Year holiday. Additionally, many provincial or municipal governments have issued notices on the postponement of work that are effective locally. For example, the governments of Shandong, Shanghai, Guangdong, Fujian required enterprises (other than the enterprises whose operation is required to ensure public utilities, epidemic control or people’s daily needs) not to resume work before 10 February 2020. The notice issued by Fujian province even specifically sets out prevention measures to be adopted in workplaces, such as daily recording of employee’s health condition and report of coronavirus infection to local epidemic control authority.

The government’s authority to issue these notices to extend holidays or postpone work is based on the Emergency Response Law of the People’s Republic of China and the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases, which empowers the government to take measures to prevent virus transmission. Non-compliance with these regulatory documents could result in administrative or criminal penalties.

In addition, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security of the People's Republic of China (MOHRSS) has issued several notices amid the outbreak, including the notice on 24 January 2020 clarifying on salaries, leaves and other labor relation issues that may arise due to virus control and prevention measures or disease treatment. Similarly, many local MOHRSS authorities have respectively issued their versions. Employers should keep abreast of and ensure compliance with such notices.

Beyond compliance with local laws, Chinese companies should ensure measures are taken to properly assess the risks to employees and the impact on business continuity and adapt their plans accordingly. These measures include assessing the risks faced by their staff whilst at work and developing measures to control those risks, identifying how much flexibility they have to adapt their working arrangements to ensure business continuity and special measures to protect vulnerable employees. The key is to plan ahead and to show leadership, thereby enabling employers to be well prepared to support their staff and to maximize the resilience of their business.

Banking and Financing Considerations

During periods of acute operational and business disruption (such as that being triggered by the coronavirus), short-term liquidity and cash-flow is inevitably impacted. Companies should be actively managing, modelling and monitoring their liquidity and projecting their likely working capital needs. Based on information already available, companies should be re-assessing and modelling the likely impact on their respective liquidity and working capital requirements, with a number of potential downside scenarios, including a worst case.

Companies should review all of their debt funding agreements to ensure that they do not contain triggers that could possibly result in credit lines being curtailed or terminated. Whilst we do not consider that the current circumstances regarding coronavirus in themselves would constitute a “material adverse change” under most debt funding agreements, those types of provisions are invariably fact-specific and so they should be considered carefully. Any financing modelling exercise should also include an analysis of compliance with financial covenants and the like in the various downside scenarios (including worst case).

As part of their ongoing dialogue with funders, companies should ensure that communications are consistent, with clear messages from companies that they are implementing plans to actively manage and mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on their business and cash-flows. Pro-active engagement with the relationship principals is recommended, i.e. companies should be calling their funders, rather than waiting for such calls.

As well as looking inward, companies need to look outward and review and analyse the position of their key counterparties, particularly those where an insolvency or similar event affecting such counterparty could have a material adverse impact on their position. Early engagement with such key counterparties is essential to ensure that there are “no surprises”. Typical issues include: accounts receivable (i.e. ensuring that there is no unplanned material loosening of credit controls); supplier stock control management; credit rating downgrades and the like.

An analysis of planned capex and a separation of “essential” vs “non-essential” capex is an important exercise in order to allow companies to be ready to defer non-essential capex if circumstances require this to be done. In our experience, such an exercise can take a long-time and so it is better commenced earlier rather than later.

If the initial review suggests that there may be liquidity and working capital management issues, companies should consider engaging with their financial advisor(s) to provide insights and support as the company reacts to such problems. Funders will typically be more supportive if they see their borrower pro-actively managing such issues with appropriate external support.

Conclusion

Businesses, including Chinese companies, should ensure that the relevant contractual and legal requirements are followed where they (or a counterparty) are seeking to rely on force majeure provisions in relation to the non-performance of contractual obligations, whether as a result of the coronavirus outbreak or the measures undertaken by the Chinese government or other governments which have undertaken measures to contain the coronavirus. At the same time, companies should assess the costs and losses of non-performance of contractual obligations and seek to control the losses and put alternative arrangements in place where feasible. Businesses also need to closely monitor the current situation and be decisive at this early stage in order to adapt their strategy and mitigate the financial impact. Further, from an employer’s perspective, companies should similarly monitor the situation on a regular basis, taking guidance from authorities in China and from international bodies such as the WHO: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

It is important to not lose sight of the fact that the impact is likely to be short-term in nature - months rather than years. The Chinese government’s announcement of a US$174 billion injection into their markets for 3 February 2020 is intended to mitigate a potential contraction in liquidity and any related increase in funding costs. In addition, the government has announced a package of measures intended to ensure that Chinese companies are better placed to ride the storm. Whilst the effectiveness of such interventions is difficult to assess, they send a clear signal that further government interventions will follow as may be required.

The main challenge facing companies will be to judge how to adjust their strategic priorities to ensure that, as well as mitigating the financial impact of the outbreak, they do not compromise their long-term growth. Following the SARS outbreak, market commentary indicated that many companies had taken decisions that, with hindsight, were an over-reaction to the crisis and had thereby curtailed their growth in subsequent years.


综述

2020年1月30日,作为对新型冠状病毒疫情(简称“新冠疫情”)的回应,世界卫生组织(the World Health Organization,简称“WHO”)宣布,新冠疫情构成“国际关注的突发公共卫生事件”(Public Health Emergency of International Concern,简称“PHEIC事件”)。这是WHO自2005年通过PHEIC程序后第6次做出构成PHEIC事件的决定。

新型冠状病毒(简称“新冠病毒”)的传播给中国和全球的企业带来了商业问题和实际困难。一些国家已经暂停了往来中国的客运和货运,中国国内也有类似的严格限制;一些国家甚至已从武汉撤回本国公民。此外,尽管中国政府已将春节假期延长至2月2日,但一些地区(如中国的炼油中心——山东)已发布通知要求企业延期复工不得早于2月10日。

新冠疫情的爆发和中国政府采取的防疫措施,已经造成部分企业的业务严重中断。根据我们面对以往的疫情的经验,如SARS,新冠疫情的影响将会进一步显现。受影响最大的企业包括(i)依赖国际贸易的企业,这些企业将因贸易限制、交货延迟和航线偏离、港口关闭等情况处于不利地位;(ii)中国船舶和建筑业,已经受到假期延长、劳动力不足、食品供应减少等因素的影响;(iii)因船舶偏离航线或不能进入中国港口而受到影响的运输业;及(iv)大宗商品和能源交易。

不可抗力

业务受到影响或可能受到影响的企业应开始审查其现有的合同安排,以确定新冠疫情在法律层面上的影响及相应的应对举措。商业合同中通常包含不可抗力条款,即,由于某些事件的发生而导致合同一方不可能或不能商业合理地按照合同约定的时间和方式履行合同,而导致服务中断。此类事件通常被定义为“不可抗力”(force majeure)事件 。

不可抗力事件的认定在很大程度上取决于合同的适用法律。不可抗力是自法国民法典借用的一项原则,即,一方因不受其控制的特殊事件的发生而不能履行合同义务时,该方不承担责任。许多其他法律管辖区的民法典也就不可抗力做出了相关规定。例如,《中华人民共和国合同法》第117条将不可抗力定义为不能预见、不能避免并不能克服的客观情况。如果相关合同的适用法律为英国法,则不可抗力的概念不会自动被纳入合同,而是一项需要合同双方同意的合同权利。如果合同中没有不可抗力条款,则合同方需要考虑其他的补救措施(详见下文)。

不可抗力条款的准确含义和效力将取决于该条款的具体措辞和根据合同适用法律对该条款的解读。然而,在未来的几天或几周时间内,企业在援引合同中的不可抗力条款前、或收到不可抗力通知时,通常需要考虑以下几个方面:

  1. 中国政府或其他受新冠病毒感染的国家政府所采取的措施是否符合合同中对不可抗力的定义?一些合同中包含了不可抗力事件的清单。通常被列为不可抗力事件的情形包括:天灾(如地震、火山爆发、山体滑坡);自然灾害;瘟疫或传染病;战争、入侵、武装冲突;封锁、禁运;破坏;全国性罢工;政府行为等。有趣的是,此次新冠疫情既涉及一种自然发生的传染病,也涉及一些政府行为如隔离、公共假期延长、交通封锁等。另外一些合同则可能只是简单地定义了一组构成不可抗力事件必须满足的标准(例如,该事件超出了一方的合理控制,或双方不能够合理预见的事件)。
  2. 中国政府或其他国家政府所采取的措施是否已经影响(或将会影响)承包商或合同对方在相关合同项下的履行情况?大多数不可抗力条款均要求构成不可抗力的事件必须对合同的履行产生影响。影响的程度(例如,是否必须达到不可能履行的程度,还是履行受到重大影响即可)则取决于相关合同和适用法律下的定义。
  3. 不可抗力条款是否包括其他需要符合的规定?例如,合同可能规定,希望发出不可抗力事件通知的一方应在规定的时间内、或通过特定的方法(如通过邮寄信件而不是电子邮件的方式发出书面通知)通知对方。需要特别注意的是,这些要求可能是受影响方行使不可抗力条款下权利而需满足的先决条件。在不可抗力条款或适用法律下,还可能存在要求受影响方采取某些措施以避免或减轻不可抗力事件的影响的义务。因此,如果受影响的一方不符合所有的要求,则其不履行合同的行为无法被豁免。
  4. 根据英国法,希望援引不可抗力条款的一方负有举证责任,需要证明某一事件的发生导致了允许的延迟、从而导致其无法履行合同义务。因此,寻求不可抗力条款保护的企业应该尽可能多地获得对其造成影响的事件的相关信息,包括时间、受影响的部门或设施的数量、以及不可抗力事件的预计结束时间。而收到来自承包商或合同对方的不可抗力事件通知的企业,则应做出答复,要求对方提供有关不可抗力事件及其对有关方的影响的完整信息。

相关合同也可能规定,如果服务中断的时间超过约定的期限,则一方或多方有权终止合同。因此,如不可抗力条款已触发,则企业应知悉合同下相关的截止日期。这一点至关重要。如果未能成功解决引起服务中断的问题(或无法做出替代性安排),则援引不可抗力条款的一方可以考虑在接近该等截止日期时与合同对方进行协商,延期提供服务。除评估不可抗力条款外,我们还建议企业考虑:由不履行合同义务而引起的任何费用和损失,是否存在可能的解决方法,例如纠纷解决机制。

不可抗力证明

中国国际贸易促进委员会(中国贸促会)可以向有意根据合同约定而暂停履行合同义务的中国企业提供不可抗力证明。为获得该等证明,受影响企业需要向中国贸促会提交特定的文件(如延误或运输取消的证明)。目前尚不明确该等证书将如何适用于双方已约定好的合同不可抗力制度。

合同受挫失效与履行困难

如果合同中未约定延迟或其他不可抗力类型的事件,则各方将需要考虑通过其他途径获得救济。当适用法律为英国法时,普通法下的合同受挫失效原则(doctrine of frustration)可能适用,但情形较为有限。当一份合同被认定为“受挫失效”(frustrated),该合同将被终止,而合同各方则可以免于继续履行。然而,为使合同被认定为“受挫失效”,所涉及的事件必须是不可预见的、在没有合同任何一方过错的情况下发生的、且该事件必须使合同无法履行或破坏了合同的根本目的。

如果合同的适用法律为中国法,或者合同中国包含了履行困难条款,则一方可以主张新冠疫情的爆发给其造成了困难,因此合同应该进行相应的调整或者终止。在中国法下,如果由于不可抗力造成的不可预知的、不属于商业风险的异常事件,使得合同义务的履行变得不合理或合同的目的已无法达成,则合同方可以诉诸法院。如果法院认定合同履行的困难确实存在,则其可能根据公平原则终止合同或对合同做出调整。然而,中国法院在认定合同履行困难存在时往往相当谨慎,且下级法院的认定必须经由上级法院批准。

长期液化天然气购买安排

上述关于不可抗力和类似延迟履行条款的讨论是基于以下假设,即这些条款将为受新冠疫情和相关防疫措施影响的各方提供即时的救济。然而,包括中国企业在内的公司,可能是在合同年度的晚些时候仍需履行某些基础义务的合同方。例如,大多数长期液化天然气销售和购买协议都包含年度购销量承诺,可以推迟到同一年内的晚些时候完成。因此,在这个阶段,液化天然气最终用户的“买入”义务受到的影响、以及从合同义务履行中获得救济的能力尚不能得到充分评估。

国际贸易

一些国家对中国公民或近期访问过中国的游客实施了临时入境禁令。然而,就贸易而言,我们尚未得知WHO、中国或其他国家政府针对新冠疫情实施了任何进出口限制。事实上,WHO近期提醒国际社会注意,根据2005年《国际卫生条例》第43条,采取任何明显干扰国际交通的额外卫生措施(例如对国际旅客、行李、货物、集装箱、交通工具、商品等拒绝入境或离境、或导致超过24小时的延误)的主体,有义务在实施该等措施后的48小时内向WHO提供采取该等措施依赖的公共卫生原理和理由。WHO将审查相关理由,并可能要求各国重新考虑其采取的措施。

世界各国政府是否会单方面限制贸易还有待观察,这取决于新冠病毒传播的情况如何发展。尽管如此,由于已经实施的各类额外的入境检查和隔离程序等防疫措施,预计新冠疫情将导致实际的困难、对国际贸易造成干扰和延误。

船舶租赁合同

新冠疫情可能引起与船舶租赁合同有关的一系列法律问题,包括可能的港口关闭、偏航、中止或终止装运等。如果某个港口由于新冠疫情而关闭或变得不再安全,则承租人可能需要指定一个替代港口。然而,目前看来新冠疫情的发展尚没有达到或可能达到出于安全原因而考虑关闭中国港口的程度。因此,船东在以疾病风险为由拒绝某一港口订单之前需要加以慎重考虑。如果船只由于偏航(如因船员生病而靠岸)或隔离导致延误,(在定期租船合同中)该船只可能根据定期租船合同的停租条款被认定为船舶租用中断(off-hire),或(在航次租船合同中)该等偏航的成本通常将由船东承担(除海牙规则规定的特定情况外)。此外,受新冠疫情影响的船东可以根据不可抗力要求中止(或终止)船舶租赁合同。请参阅上文(不可抗力)中我们有关不可抗力主张的必要因素的讨论。

雇主

就雇主而言,在新冠疫情期间,在中国运营的企业应遵守政府所发布的通知和监管性文件的指导。如前所述,中国政府已发出通知,延长春节公共假期。此外,许多省(自治区、直辖市)政府也发布了在当地生效的关于推迟复工的通知。例如,山东、上海、广东、福建等地政府均要求各类企业(除公共事业、防疫、和保障人民生活等需要进行经营活动的企业外)复工不早于2020年2月10日。福建省发布的通知进一步明确规定了在工作场所应当采取的防疫措施,如每日记录员工健康状况、并向当地防疫部门报告新冠病毒感染情况等。

政府部门发布前述通知并延长假期或推迟复工日期的权力来源于《中华人民共和国突发事件应对法》和《中华人民共和国传染病防治法》,该等法律赋予了政府管理部门采取各项防疫措施的权力。未能遵守此类监管性文件可能导致行政处罚,甚至刑事处罚。

此外,中华人民共和国人力资源和社会保障部在新冠疫情爆发期间发布了多项通知,包括2020年1月24日发布的通知,就因新冠疫情的防控措施或疾病治疗等事宜可能引起的工资、假期等劳动关系问题进行了澄清。同样的,许多地方人力资源和社会保障部门也分别发布了相应的文件,雇佣者应关注并确保遵守有关通知的要求。

除遵守相关法律法规外,中国企业还应确保采取措施,正确评估在新冠疫情前员工面临的风险以及对业务连续性的影响,并相应地调整计划。企业可以采取的措施包括评估员工在工作期间所面临的风险、并相应的制定控制这些风险的措施,识别员工在调整工作安排以确保业务连续性方面的灵活性,以及有关保护弱势员工的特别措施。企业在新冠疫情期间的关键是要提前计划、展示出领导力,从而使雇佣者做好准备、支持员工,并最大限度的提供企业的韧性。

融资考量

在严重的运营和业务中断期间(例如由新冠疫情引发的),短期流动性和现金流不可避免地受到影响。企业应积极管理、模拟和监控其流动性,并预测其可能的运营资金需求。根据现有的信息,企业应重新评估和模拟其各自的流动性和运营资本要求可能受到的影响,并考虑一系列潜在的负面情况,包括最坏的可能性。

企业应审查所有债务融资文件,以确保它们不包含可能导致信贷额度缩减或终止的触发因素。虽然我们认为目前关于新冠疫情本身的情况在大多数债务融资文件下不构成“重大不利变化”,该等条款通常是非常具体的,因此仍应仔细分析。任何财务建模工作还应包括对各种不利情况下(包括最坏的可能性)对财务性承诺的遵守情况和类似情况的分析。

作为与资金方的持续交流的一部分,企业应确保沟通的一致性,并传达明确的信息,即它们正在实施各项计划,以积极管理和减轻新冠疫情对其业务和现金流的影响。建议与相关负责人积极接触,即企业应该主动与资金方进行沟通,而不是等待资金方采取行动。

除了关注内部,企业还需要关注外部,审查和分析其主要交易对手方的情况,特别是因受破产或类似事件可能对其产生重大不利影响的交易对手方。尽早与这些关键交易对手方进行沟通,对于确保“避免意外情况”至关重要。典型的问题包括:应收账款(即确保没有计划外的信贷控制的大幅放松);供应商库存控制管理;信用评级被下调等等。

对计划中的资本支出进行分析、并将“必要的”资本支出与“非必要的”资本支出进行区分,同样至关重要。其目的是使企业做好准备,在情况需要时可以推迟非必要的资本支出。根据我们的经验,这样的分析可能需要很长时间,所以建议及早启动。

如果初步审查表明可能存在流动性和运营资金管理问题,企业应考虑聘请财务顾问,在应对此类问题时提供咨询意见和支持。如果贷款方在适当的外部支持下积极管理这些问题,借款方通常会更愿意给予帮助和支持。

结语

无论是出于新冠疫情的直接影响、或由于中国或其他国家政府采取的防疫措施而导致无法履行合同义务,当自身(或合同对方)希望援引不可抗力条款、寻求保护时,企业应确保遵循相关的合同约定和法律规定。同时,企业应评估不履行合同义务的成本和损失,并设法控制这些损失,在可行的情况下考虑做出替代性安排。企业还需要密切关注目前的情况,在此早期阶段采取果断行动,以及时调整策略和减轻财务影响。此外,从雇佣者的角度而言,企业也应该定期检测疫情发展,接受中国政府和WHO等国际性组织的指导:https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

企业应看到,新冠疫情带来的影响很可能是短期的——即可能持续数月而非数年。中国政府宣布将于2020年2月3日向市场注资1,740亿美元,旨在缓解可能出现的流动性收缩和融资成本增加。此外,政府还宣布采取一系列措施,以确保中国企业能够更好地渡过这场风暴。虽然这些措施的效果难以评估,但它们传达了政府将根据需要采取进一步的干预措施的明确信号。

企业面临的主要挑战是判断如何调整它们的战略优先级,以确保它们在不牺牲长期增长的同时,在减轻外部的财务影响。非典爆发后,市场评论指出,许多企业做出的决定事后看来是对危机的过度反应,因此在随后几年里限制了它们的增长。


1合同中也可能使用其他术语。

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