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A few days ago, Japan’s Index Consulting and its partners – Deloitte, Nishimura & Asahi, and Padeco – worked with the Ministry of Transport (MoT) on the results of a one-year study about possibilities of transferring the operation right of the Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay Expressway.
Developed by state-owned Vietnam Expressway Corporation (VEC), the country’s largest expressway developer, the route in question is the first studied expressway concession project in Vietnam.
With support from the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA), the study is expected to help potential Japanese funders learn about the investment opportunities of the life-line 55-kilometre highway located in the country’s south-eastern region.
FEASIBLE OR NOT?
Mai Tuan Anh, chairman of VEC, saw the results as a positive signal for the project as the study proves their capacity to return loans as scheduled, while having the funding to develop new projects.
Index Consulting proposes 30 years for the two concession schemes for the route, with the first to keep the four existing lanes, thus concession value is estimated at $796 million. In the second scheme, if the expressway is expanded to six lanes by 2020, the concession value will be over $1 billion.
The VEC representative said that Index Consulting favours the second scheme as with current transport growth, the expressway will likely be overloaded in the next five to seven years, thus enabling VEC to return its loans to JICA and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) as scheduled by 2032.
At present, the Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay route is among the busiest highways built by VEC. With the total investment of VND20.63 trillion ($896.96 million) sourced from JICA and ADB loans for the first phase, the route has served over 45 million vehicles after over three years of operation.
While the study result is said to be a good signal for VEC and other interested overseas interested investors, some legal barriers in the process remain.
In September 2016, VEC signed a co-operation agreement with France’s Vinci Concessions, with transfer of the right to operate expressways developed by VEC being among the three main parts. The Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay and the Cau Gie-Ninh Binh routes – among VEC’s most trafficked expressways – were their targets. However, the plan has so far hit a snag due to the lack of a legal framework, with expressway concession being new to Vietnam.
“VEC is developing and operating five expressways under a loan package. The group must collect tolls to pay its debts. Thus, the corporation cannot separate the roads to sell the operation rights of two to Vinci,” an MoT official told VIR.
“We need a detailed legal framework for expressway concessions. For example, in the scheme the investor wants to expand in the future, it is necessary to have a risk allocation mechanism, particular for site clearance, between the state and the investor. The other is price fixing among other things,” he said.
The other barrier is that VEC is waiting for the Politburo’s approval of the scheme on financial restructuring for its five expressways. Thus, concessions and the mechanism for them will be considered when approval is made.
Moreover, VEC is now in the process to transfer to the State Capital Management Committee. There are still some concerns about the overlap in management between the committee and the MoT which is now managing the corporation.
- The Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Day Expressway has an economic efficiency equivalent to over VND3 trillion ($130.4 million), higher than the average figure of the eastern component projects of the North-South Expressway at about VND1.4 trillion ($60.9 million).
- Established in 1994, Tokyo-based Index Consulting has a list of 100 clients, including GE Japan Corporation, Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, Mizuho Trust & Banking Co., Ltd., Morgan Stanley Group, Nippon Steel & Sumikin Engineering Co., Ltd., Tokyu Land Corporation, Tokyu Real Estate Investment Management Inc., and Unilever Japan K.K.
The Index Consulting study is expected to be a good foundation to take next steps. However, VEC and interested investors can do nothing but wait for improvements in the legal framework.
Currently, VEC is the investor of five expressway projects with a total investment capital of $6 billion, spanning over 500km in total. Of these, four are already open to traffic, including the Cau Gie-Ninh Binh, Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay, the 245-kilometre Noi Bai-Lao Cai, and the Danang-Quang Ngai routes. The Ben Luc-Long Thanh route will be completed in 2020.
The expressway developer said that in the first nine months of 2018, the number of vehicles served by its expressways grew by 11 per cent on-year to 30.5 million. Of the five, the Cau Gie-Ninh Binh Expressway reported the highest growth with 17 per cent and 11.4 million vehicles. The runner-up was Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay Expressway with 11 million vehicles, while 7.4 million were served by Noi Bai-Lao Cai Expressway, up more than 12 per cent.
VEC aims to continue investing a total of VND80 trillion ($3.87 billion) in building 500km of expressways in the 2016-2020 period, thus creating opportunities for funders to join.
Expressway concession is one among the most interested business segments in the transport sector. Over recent years, besides Vinci, many international groups, including KEC, NEXCO, POSCO, and Doosan, and others from the likes of Spain and the US have expressed interest in co-operating with VEC on expressway operations.
Mori Masafumi, deputy head of the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, said that many infrastructure investors in Japan are strongly interested in the transfer of operation rights.
He noted that the Japanese government and his ministry will continue providing support to make the concession of Ho Chi Minh City-Long Thanh-Dau Giay Expresway successful.
With no new concession deals signed yet, the international consortium led by Indian infrastructure company IL&FS remains the first foreign investor to ink such a deal after it successfully signed an agreement in 2014 with Vietnam Infrastructure Development and Finance Investment Company to acquire the right to collect tolls on Hanoi-Haiphong Expressway.