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JEDDAH

Khalil Khazindar Law Firm
in Association with
JASON HUF INTERNATIONAL pc
Ammar Commercial Center

Al Murjan Street (off of King Abdul Aziz Street), Office # 202
P.O. Box 157,  Jeddah  21411
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
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www.khazindarlaw.com
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  • Saudi Arabia's "Companies Law" of 2015

    Saudi Arabia's (KSA) new Companies Law of 2015 came into effect on May 2, 2016.  At JHI, we wished to see the new law in practice and how it would be enforced by Saudi authorities before commenting.  In the meantime, much has already been written about the new law and we need not cover the same ground here.

    Of particular interest to clients and potential clients of JHI is, we believe, the law's provision of the option of Sole Proprietorships (or "Single-Shareholder" companies), and how applications for the licensing and registration of such by foreign investors are treated by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment and the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

    As a general matter, the new law provides that SAGIA may continue to impose additionally stringent incorporation requirements on companies being established with the backing of foreign investors.  While the process of approving incorporation applications has been somewhat streamlined at SAGIA, a certain level of uncertainty, especially at the beginning stages of such an application, remains.

    When considering establishing or reforming an entity in the KSA, JHI feels that if a foreign investor has a trustworthy local partner/ agent (or "sponsor") then, for the time being, it may remain prudent to make use of such local parties when doing business in the Kingdom.  In addition to possibly enjoying a smoother approval process, one might avoid any potential bureaucratic pushback by some recalcitrant officials who may still be resistant to the Vision 2030 reforms more generally.

    The relationship with one's local sponsor can be further clarified via a side letter to the sponsorship agreement.  Such sideletters have been enforced by Saudi courts with increasing regularity.  And, JHI hopes that the provision for Single-Shareholder companies in the new Companies Law is not seen by the local judiciary as a rationale for reversing this trend.

    We will have more to say about the execution and enforement of the new Companies Law and other reforms as events (rapidly) progress.  Speaking of events, recent news indicates a very real likelihood of a shift in the direction of investment capital flowing between the Untied States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    Where the Riyals of the Sovereign Wealth Fund go, other Saudi-based investment capital tends to follow.  With that in mind, JHI is seriously considering offering the shepherding of EB-5 (Investor) Visa applications to the menu of professional services our firm offers to incoming companies that invest in the United States, particularly New York, Pennsylvania and/ or New Jersey, where Mr. Huf is admitted to bar.  JHI will have more to say on this in the near future as well.
  • Arbitration Clauses in Multi-National Agreements

    Arbitration clauses are often heavily negotiated and complex enough to be referred to as “a contract within the contract”.  The reasons for this are obvious (even to us transactional practitioners).  The exact terms of a dispute resolution clause can have far-reaching consequences.

    One of the goals in crafting such a clause is to mitigate the irreconcilability of disputes as they arise by putting your client in the best possible position in the event of a scenario that triggers termination and subsequent arbitration.  Naturally, both sides have this in mind during negotiations.  But, what happens in jurisdictions where the enforceability of arbitration clauses may be considered by some, fairly or unfairly, to be a somewhat unsettled question?

    Until recently, while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (or, KSA) has been a member to the New York Convention (on the enforcement of arbitral awards), this did not always lead one to predict with certainty that a Saudi court would recognize the validity of the arbitration clause in your agreement with a local party and direct that party to resort to arbitration, as per your agreement.  In the past, senior judicial officials and other legal professionals in Saudi Arabia have on occasion issued public pronouncements that arbitration clauses are contrary to Shari’ah and are therefore invalid, and should not be enforced by Saudi courts.

    That is to say, in Saudi Arabia you may have had the right to enforce an arbitral award granted by a tribunal (keeping in mind the difficulty some may experience in attempting actual collection in the Kingdom), but such public pronouncements may have lead some to wonder if you could successfully assert that the underlying dispute be entered into arbitration in the first place (in the KSA), depending on whether or not the judge in the Saudi court deciding the question deemed your particular arbitration clause (or, arbitration clauses generally) to be appropriate under, or contrary to, Shari'ah.

    Today, some are hopeful that the passage of the KSA's new Arbitration Law of 2012 (
    based on the UNCITRAL Model Arbitration Law) to supplant the KSA Arbitration Law of 1983, and the creation of judicial training centers and the subsequent appointment of judges to serve in a new commercial court system in the KSA, will lead to greater clarity on the subject of the enforcement of arbitration clauses.  As with any legal reform, time will tell.

    In the neighboring United Arab Emirates (UAE), the considerations differ.  The validity of the arbitration clause, the formation of the contact, and the nature of the relationship between the parties themselves are just a few of the considerations that a court could measure in weighing the enforceability of a given arbitration clause.

    Any Emirati national (individual or corporate) has the right to avail itself of the protection and justice of the courts of the UAE.  In the past, this may have prompted some local parties in the UAE to move that a local court should assert jurisdiction, despite the existence of an arbitration clause.  It should be said, however, that in the UAE (a commercial hub in the Gulf region that has become famous for the "City of Dreams", Dubai, and increasingly the "Green Emirate" of Abu Dhabi), such motions should rely on more than this basic right if a party wishes to succeed in its attempt to escape arbitration under a valid clause.

    Following certain provisions of the UAE (federal) Civil Code, judges in local courts should hold that validly written arbitration clauses are enforceable, except when there exist particular circumstances.  For example, in disputes arising from registered commercial agency agreements a judge may deem an otherwise valid arbitration clause unenforceable and declare it void on the grounds that clauses calling for alternative dispute resolution (or, ADR) in such contracts are contrary to, or inconsistent with, "Public Policy".  (Please note: the commonly used, colloquial term "sponsorship agreement" is much broader and could refer to several different types of business relationships in the UAE; whereas, "registered commercial agency agreements" refers to a specific type of business relationship, which must also be properly registered with the relevant government office in accordance with both the law and the terms stipulated in the agreement itself.)

    So, what do you do when doing business internationally, and some of your relationships are with parties in the Middle East?

    Negotiate an arbitration clause.

    And, retain an experienced attorney with local knowledge (preferably one with a presence in the specific jurisdiction in question: the laws of Middle Eastern jurisdictions, like the laws of countries in other regions of the world, are subject to change).

    If the local party with which your company is doing business has attachable assets outside of the Middle East in a country where collections may be deemed less frustrating, that can be a plus.  But, as with just about everything else, there is no substitute for experience -- and solid, relevant legal experience may be one of your best assets at the negotiating table.

  • A Deal's a Deal. Right?

    In the Middle East, the old joke among Western lawyers goes something like this:  “First you negotiate the contract, then you close the contract. And then, you renegotiate the contract… ”

    All good jokes are rooted in the truth.  While there certainly are some local parties in the Middle East who are committed to keeping their word and sticking to the deal they negotiated, there does exist this unfortunately common dynamic wherein the local party will test, stretch and even flat-out ignore the terms of an agreement they just executed.  One might even lose money betting against a breach occurring before the ink dries.

    And yet, throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, billions of (US) dollars worth of business is successfully transacted each and every year by and between foreign and local parties.  How does that work?

    It starts with understanding what local businessmen already know:  going to court, dumping your local agent (or, colloquially speaking, your “sponsor”), etc, are usually your last best options.  You can see your company effectively frozen out of the market if you make such a move without an almost perfect sense of deftness.  And, even if eventually successful, should your company go this route, you have embarked on a long, aggravating and expensive disruption of business that will give rise to discussions that start with, “Why don’t we just pull out of there?”

    We will talk about arbitration clauses (and, the enforceability of them in GCC jurisdictions) in a subsequent posting.  For now, you also need to understand that the local sponsor, or other local parties with whom your company does business, who busies himself with stretching the terms of your agreement is primarily (if not entirely) in the business of sponsoring foreign enterprises (or otherwise makes his money conducting business with foreign parties).  Maintaining sponsorships or other replationships with foreign investors (and, protecting their reputations and pride) tend to be the top priorities of local companies.  So, when such companies appear to breach their agreements, what do they hope to gain by playing around?

    Usually, more money.  And, usually, not much more.  More often than not, you can settle the matter by amending a couple of terms and (slightly) goosing up their sponsorship “fee” (or, whatever other payment, profit or compensation they may be receiving).

    What about the law of contracts?  Why can’t I look for a new sponsor and/ or seek judicial recourse?

    Remember that the laws requiring you to obtain a sponsor in the first place are protectionist in nature.  On an unofficial level, shopping around for more pliant for cooperative sponsors isn’t designed to be easy.

    Also, while consideration, reliance and other concepts are necessary to show a promise made in contract is enforceable under the laws of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), such is not the case to show the existence of an enforceable contract in Saudi Arabia (KSA).  In the KSA, if you make a promise, you’re stuck with it.

    Isn’t the other side stuck with it, too???

    Well, in the Middle East, there is the law the way it is written, and the law the way its enforced.  And, to further complicate things, that which is enforced is not always written, and that which is written is not always enforced.  If you wind up in a KSA court, you may have a judge whose primary concern is sending a signal to his government, more than adjudicating a dispute between the parties before him.  In the UAE, much may depend on whether the judge enjoyed his breakfast, or if he is miserable from a belly ache, as he reads your company’s brief… (And, keep in mind, the UAE imports its judges from other countries – those judges tend to be mindful of who gave them their jobs.)

    As to getting another sponsor, while the UAE and the individual Emirates therein may not employ “black lists” per se (as does the KSA), you should nonetheless do your best to avoid running afoul of bureaucrats at relevant ministries and other governmental offices who may have a cousin, friend, or other acquaintance who may just happen to be your soon-to-be former sponsor or other business partner/ associate.  Business licenses have to be renewed every year, and your specific business may well depend on successfully bidding on government tenders; and, while Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for example, may look like big cities, they still very much operate as “small towns” on many different levels.

    That’s not to say successfully changing your sponsor and/ or winning a contractual dispute with a local party in the Middle East is impossible.  Such has been known to happen in Abu Dhabi, and even in Jeddah (where arbitration clauses are less likely to be deemed enforceable by local courts, even though the KSA is a party to the New York Convention).  Accordingly, you should protect yourself in the governing documentation the way you would in any other international agreement.

    Have the standard choice of law, venue, and language clauses, as well an arbitration clause (which can be something of a contract unto itself) and, especially, a (carefully written) termination clause.  If an American-based company (or, even if you are based in another Western country but have operations in the US), make sure the documentation includes language concerning your refusal to violate the provisions of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (over the last several years, the trend has been increasingly robust enforcement of the FCPA).  American companies might also think to include a so-called “anti-boycott” clause in the agreement, given the on again/ off again enforcement of boycotts against Israel by some Arab states.

    Although the general mood in the GCC seems to favor a direction wherein the laws are being changed to relax the hold local parties (especially those deemed “sponsors”) have over foreign direct investment in their respective markets/ jurisdictions, it is usually best to try to renegotiate when a breach occurs.  Such renegotiation should, generally speaking, settle upon a slight increase in the amount of earnings the local party derives from the deal.

  • Its Fracking Summertime

    Between the July 4 weekend and other summer holidays, high summer in the Middle East, the holy month of Ramadan, and some sort of soccer tournament, we find ourselves in the unusual position of having a little free time here at JHI.

    As such, watch THIS SPACE:  In the coming weeks, JHI will post a brief article right here in our Notes & Comments section on Hydraulic Fracturing (colloquially referred to as “Fracking”).

    Following Labor Day, JHI will publish a brief note on contracting with parties in Middle Eastern jurisdictions (in particular, Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates(UAE)); and, in a subsequent writing, JHI will share some thoughts on Arbitration Clauses when doing business internationally.

    And, while there tends not to be many developments in the law anywhere in world during these summer months, JHI will continue to keep our eyes peeling concerning such developments as and when they affect Marcellus Shale Natural Gas, Charter Schools, Municipalities, Middle Eastern jurisdictions (particularly Gulf Cooperation Council jurisdictions), the law of Contracts, the laws of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) and the KSA, and business law generally.

    In the meantime, we would just like to wish all concerned a safe and happy summertime!
  • Marcellus Shale - Be Your Own Regulator

    As energy production on federally-owned land has been slowed to a trickle through government action (and, sometimes, inaction), the production of oil and gas on privately-owned land has increased exponentially.  This development has not only provided the first real hope of a sustainable economic boom the United States has seen in years, it also has the country on pace to be energy-independent in just five years.  An America that exports energy isn’t a “game changer”, it’s a world changer.

    Those who live above, and own the rights to, Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits should be aware that the advances in technology that make Marcellus Shale natural gas exploitable also make such exploitation safe from an environmental standpoint.  Everyone likes clean water, and no one wants their use and enjoyment of clean water to be disturbed.  Almost as undesirable, however, might be the disturbance of natural gas production by bureaucrats (or, perhaps in some rare instances, ideologues acting in the guise of bureaucrats) tasked with ensuring water safety.  Also of concern may be third-party litigants seeking to maintain the artificial scarcity of our energy supply under the banner of “environmental protection”.

    How do you maintain peace of mind that your water will remain clean while preventing governmental and other third-party interference that could hamper the value of your natural resource?  Through contract.  Again, we’re talking about privately-owned land and mineral rights, so federal regulations are not the most pressing concern.  As to state regulations, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has thus far proved itself to be one of the most energy-friendly states in the country, where the emphasis on new law has largely been on securing economic growth.  But, no government lasts forever – governors have term limits, and seats in the legislature do, occasionally, turn over.

    Protect yourself by preempting the rationale for governmental and other third-party action:  when you agree to lease the rights to your gas to a gas producer, make sure the contract includes health, safety and environmental standards that are an enforceable part of your agreement.  If you own rights to Marcellus Shale natural gas deposits, negotiating for such self-regulation is perfectly reasonable and in your best interests.  Reputable gas producers will not fight you on this, and the best of them will actually help you with understanding how the technology works and how to establish enforcement mechanisms that guarantee the quality of their work on your land.

    The first step is getting together with your friends, neighbors and others who share your interests and discussing the importance of using your power as citizens and concerned property owners.  Being on the same page is fundamentally vital to keeping your environment clean without the assistance of government regulations and regulators.  The next step is contacting qualified, experienced legal counsel with the knowledge, expertise and commitment to help your community to help itself.