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《律商中国法律透视》
《律商中国法律透视》2010-11
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  根据建设部工程担保合同示范文本提供履约保函
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   首页 > 中国法律透视 > 热点
根据建设部工程担保合同示范文本提供履约保函
(English Version)   

 

叶碧青  贝克•麦坚时国际律师事务所上海代表处

序言

原建设部于2005年5月18日发布了一套《工程担保合同示范文本》(试行),至今已过去5年。承包商履约保函作为这套《工程担保合同示范文本》中的一个组成文件,必须由承包商提供给业主。虽然近年来中国承包商向业主提供履约保函已经越来越常见,但建设部 【1】《工程担保合同示范文本》中的履约保函似乎并没有在本地得到广泛使用。本文着眼于讨论建设部该示范承包商履约保函的显著特征,并探讨可能造成国际业主不愿意使用该示范履约保函的原因。

履约保函

由承包商提供履约保函给发包人,这是一个在大多数国际建设项目中根深蒂固的传统。履约保函用于担保承包商履行合同义务。履约保函主要由银行、保险公司或者其他金融机构(“保证人”)应承包商(“委托人”)的要求向发包人(“受益人”)出具。

中国建设部于2005年5月18日出台了关于印发《工程担保合同示范文本》(试行)的通知。根据这个通知,十种示范保证合同文本开始试行。这个通知目前仍然有效,而各地建设部门也仍在推进这批示范保函的使用。这批示范保函中包括:
• 投标保函
• 承包商履约保函
• 业主支付保函
• 总承包商付款(分包)保函
• 总承包商付款(供货)保函
本文着眼于讨论示范履约保函,同时探讨国际投资者在中国的建设项目中不愿意使用该示范履约保函的原因。

这些示范保函的使用并不是强制性的。尽管中国建设部也并不强制要求使用建设工程施工合同示范文本,但是一些地方的当地建设部门可能会要求使用建设部的建设合同示范文本或者类似的当地文本。在这种情况下,业主就不得不使用示范文本来保证合同可以成功申报,从而获得施工许可。由于目前履约保函还不是必须申报的文件,因此其通过也就不受到当地建设部门的干预。示范履约保函中值得注意的要点有:

违约保函

履约保函分为见索即付/无条件保函 和 附条件/违约保函两种。见索即付保函类似于备用信用证:受益人无需证明履约方违约或者条件成就,只要受益人提出要求,担保人就要支付保函数额。因此,无条件履约保函是独立于履约方与受益人之间的主合同的。而违约保函则要求证明被担保人违反了主合同。也就是说,此时发包人必须证明被担保人违反了主合同项下的义务。因此,违约保函对于建设项目的业主是相对不利的。

这些示范文本的共同点是他们都属于违约保函。因此受益人必须要证明被担保人违约。而且如果涉及质量问题,受益人必须提供经过授权的质量检验机构的报告。这个过程可能会很费时,而且可能会使问题复杂化。担保人也需要一段时间核实证据。

除了必须证明违约,受益人还必须证明,由于被担保人对主合同的违约,其蒙受了实际损失。因此,在使用示范履约保函的情况下,受益人必须首先证明违约,其次证明实际损害。从受益人决定向担保人索赔,到担保人决定受益人的索赔是否符合要求,这之间的时间间隔可能非常长,而且缺乏确定性。

保函的有效性/保证责任的解除

一般来说,履约保函在项目竣工或保修期结束后不久就会失效。示范履约保函也允许各方在保函中写入保证期间在工程竣工以后的截止时间。但是示范履约保函中规定,任何对于工程竣工日期的协议变更都必须经过担保人的书面同意。这一规定会给业主带来繁重的行政负担。因为在建设项目中,延误是非常常见的现象,而这一规定导致的风险就是履约担保可能在工程竣工前已经失效。

需要注意的是,其他的示范文本一般都规定,担保人的责任在保证期间届满时(即保函规定的到期日)或者在保证期间届满前担保人履行保证责任所支付的金额已经达到保函规定的上限时,担保人的保证责任即解除。而在示范履约保函中则规定,在出现应解除担保人保证责任的情形时,担保人的保证责任亦解除。而“应解除担保人保证责任的情形”这一概念的程度和范围是模糊和不确定的。可以说,如果一位业主指示扣除工程建设中的较大部分,从而导致了合同价格的降低,就可能被视为是对于合同条款和条件的重大变更,并因此被认定为符合了“应解除担保人保证责任的情形”。

免责条款

示范履约保函明确规定,对于主合同的变更如致使担保方的保证责任加重,需征得担保方书面同意,否则担保方将不承担加重部分的保证责任。与此相反,国际工程项目中使用的保函通常规定,担保人的责任不因主合同的任何变更而免责。这是因为实践中,变更和时间宽限在建设工程中总是会不断出现,从而改变合同的条款和条件。

缺乏法律规定

相关法律没有对示范履约保函作出规定。保函是一个单独而独立的责任,不能适用任何主合同所适用的法律。如果受益人和担保人都是中国的主体,则应适用中国的法律。否则受益人可能会难以确定有管辖权的法院和管辖法律。

争议解决

建设工程施工合同往往规定通过仲裁方式解决争端。通过在中国法院诉讼的方式解决争端往往不利于国际投资者。大多数的业主都倾向于使用仲裁,并且应尽可能与建设工程施工合同的争端解决条款保持一致。

评论

目业主不希望在证明违约和其有权基于实际损害索赔的问题上投入费用。而银行可能不愿意承担调查主合同是否发生违约或者赔付请求是否符合要求的责任。示范履约保函并不能提供保障措施,以保证项目业主提出符合要求的索赔请求时,可以获得赔付。因此,在目前法规不强制要求使用示范履约保函的情况下,示范履约保函不太可能成为国际投资者的首选。

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【1】建设部已被更名为住房和城乡建设部


作者介绍

叶碧青,贝克•麦坚时国际律师事务所上海代表处资深律师。叶律师的执业领域侧重于亚太地区大型基建项目所相关的一切协议。她对不同产业领域具有深刻地了解,并在建筑相关的诉讼和一般性商业仲裁方面具有经验。

电话: +86 21 6105 8558 │ 电邮: pett.yap@bakermckenzie.com
地址: 金茂大厦1601室世纪大道88号上海浦东新区200121

请注意:本文的内容仅是针对所涉及的题目作出总体的探讨,不能够作为提供给个案所需咨询意见的替代。


Provision of a performance bond based on the MOC standard performance guarantee

Pett Yap  Baker & McKenzie

Introduction

More than five years have elapsed since the former Ministry of Construction ("MOC")[1]launched a suite of standard guarantee forms for a trial run on 18 May 2005, and one of the standard forms is a performance guarantee which a contractor has to furnish to the project owner. Although provision of a performance bond by Chinese contractors to project owners has become increasingly common in recent years, it does not appear that the MOC standard performance guarantee has gained popularity with local users. This article looks at the salient features of the MOC standard performance guarantee and examines the possible reasons underlying the reluctance of international project owners to use the MOC standard performance guarantee.

Performance Bond

The provision of a performance bond by a contractor in favour of the employer is a deeply ingrained feature in most international construction projects. Performance bonds serve as security for the performance of the contract by the contractor. They are essentially an undertaking given by a bank, insurance company or other financial institution (a "guarantor") at the request of the contractor ("principal") in favour of the employer ("beneficiary").

The Ministry of Construction in China issued the Notice Regarding the Issuance of Standard Form Contracts for Bonds for Construction Projects on 18 May 2005. The Notice launched 10 standard guarantee forms for a trial run. The Notice remains in force and local construction authorities continue to promote the use of the standard bond forms. The standard form bonds include:

• bid bond from contractor to owner
• performance bond from contractor to owner
• payment security bond from owner to contractor
• payment security bond from contractor to subcontractor
• payment security bond from contractor to supplier

This article focuses on the standard performance bond and looks at why it has not gained popularity with international investors involved in construction projects in China.

The use of the standard bond forms is not mandatory. Whilst use of the MOC standard construction contract is also not mandatory, local construction authorities in certain localities may require the use of the MOC standard construction contract or its equivalent local form. In such a case, the owner would have no choice but to use the standard construction contract to ensure successful filing of the same so as to obtain the construction commencement permit. Currently performance bonds do not have to be filed, and as such they are not subject to the local construction authorities' intervention on the bond form to be adopted.

The notable elements of the standard performance bond are:

Default Bond

Performance bonds are either on-demand/unconditional or conditional/default in nature. On-demand bonds are akin to standby letters of credit. The guarantor is obliged to pay simply on demand by the beneficiary without proof of default by the performing party or conditions; hence it is independent of the underlying contract between the performing party and the beneficiary. Default bonds, on the other hand, require proof of breach of the underlying contract by the principal. An employer would have to establish that the principal is in breach of its obligations under the underlying contract. For this reason, default bonds are not favoured by owners in construction projects.

The common denominator of the standard forms of bond is that they are default bonds. The beneficiary has to provide proof of breach by the principal, and where quality issues are concerned the beneficiary has to produce a report from a licensed quality inspection agency. This process is likely to be time consuming and may lead to complications. The guarantor has a period of time to verify the evidence.

In addition to having to establish breach, the beneficiary has to prove the actual damages which he suffered by reason of that breach of the underlying contract. Thus, it appears that under the standard performance bond the beneficiary would first have to prove breach, and secondly actual damages. The time lag between a beneficiary's decision to call on the bond and decision of the guarantor whether to satisfy the claim may be lengthy and the lack of certainty in the outcome significantly weakens the value of the bond.

Validity of the Bond/Release

Generally, performance bonds will expire shortly after the completion of a project or defects warranty period. Likewise, the standard performance bond allows the parties to insert a cut-off time on the guarantor's obligations after the project completion. However, under the standard performance bond any change to the contractual completion date must be approved in writing by the guarantor. This imposes an onerous administrative burden on the employer since delays are a common occurrence in construction projects and introduces risk that the performance bond will lapse prior to the project completion.

It should be noted that where other standard performance forms provide that the obligations of the guarantor under the bond are discharged absolutely upon expiry (that is, the date defined in the bond) or payments made under the guarantee reach the cap specified in the guarantee before expiry, the standard performance bond prescribes that on occurrence of circumstances which justify the discharge of the bond the guarantor shall be released from its liability. The extent and scope of "circumstances which justify the discharge of the bond" is ambiguous and undefined. Arguably, an instruction by the owner to omit a sizeable part of the works with a consequent reduction of the contract price may be considered a significant variation of the contract terms and conditions and may therefore be categorized as circumstances which justify the discharge of the bond.

Exclusions from Liability/Release

The standard form expressly exempts the guarantor from the consequences of variations to the underlying contract that result in additional liabilities being imposed on the guarantor unless such variations have been approved in writing by the guarantor. By contrast, bonds used in international construction projects would normally provide that the surety's liability is not released as a result of any alteration to the underlying contract. This is because, in practice, invariably variations and allowances of time would arise in a construction project thereby varying the terms, conditions and provisions of the contract.

No Governing Law

The standard performance bond is silent on the governing law. A bond is a separate and distinct obligation and any choice of law in the underlying contract will not apply to the bond. If both the beneficiary and guarantor are PRC entities, the applicable law will be PRC law otherwise the beneficiary may be faced with the uncertainty of establishing the courts with jurisdiction and the governing law of the bond.

Dispute Resolution

Construction contracts usually provide for disputes to be settled by arbitration. The settlement of disputes by litigation in the Chinese courts are unlikely to find favour with international investors. Most owners would prefer arbitration and as far as possible, the dispute resolution provision should be identical to that in the construction contract.

Comments

Project owners would not want to be put to the expense of proving default and justifying their right to be paid by reference to any actual loss. The banks may be unwilling to enter into obligations which require investigation into whether the underlying contract has in fact been breached and the call is justified. The standard performance form fails to provide project owners with a measure of protection that a justified call on the bond will be enforced. In the absence of legal reason requiring the use of the standard performance bond it is unlikely to be the preferred option of international investors.

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[1] The Ministry of Construction has been re-named the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development.
About the author

Pett Yap, Special Counsel, Baker & McKenzie. Ms. Yap's practice focuses on all agreements necessary for major infrastructure projects in the Asia Pacific region. She has been involved in several industry sectors and also has experience in contentious construction and general commercial arbitration and litigation.
Tel: +86 21 6105 8558 │ Email: pett.yap@bakermckenzie.com

Please note: The contents of this article are intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter only, and should not be treated as a substitute for specific advice concerning an individual situation.

 
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