The term Joint Venture appeared in the United States of America and has been widely accepted worldwide. It is a concept with a very broad meaning, which, in essence refers to agreements executed between individuals or companies in order to undertake a joint project, in which the rules that will be applied to its operation are determined.
The main characteristic of the Joint Venture is its contractual nature. This figure is used to designate different forms of cooperation between individuals or legal entities in order to achieve a common objective through the contribution of resources, without the parties losing their legal autonomy. The application of this type of contract is wide; contracts for marketing, manufacturing, supply, sales, technology, exploitation of natural resources, among others.
The doctrine mainly distinguishes between two types of Joint Ventures: i) Joint Venture Corporation and ii) Joint Venture Agreement. The difference between these figures is that the former has the purpose of incorporating a company different from its members, while the latter excludes any type of corporate relationship.
Notwithstanding the type of Joint Venture chosen, an essential element is its duration. This means that it must necessarily be a contract of a consecutive nature – not of instantaneous enforcement – since this duration is the one that allows the parties to venture jointly.
In Ecuador, the Joint Venture is regulated by the “EIGHTH TITLE of BUSINESS COLLABORATION” of the new Commercial Code (“Cc”) that came into force in 2019. It provides for two figures: the “Joint Venture” (Articles 585 to 600) and the “Commercial Consortium” (Articles 601 to 607).
Article 585 of the Cc defines the Joint Venture as:
“A contract of associative nature, by means of which two or more persons, whether natural or legal, agree to operate a business in common for a specified period of time, agreeing to participate in the profits resulting from it, as well as to be liable for the obligations undertaken and for the losses incurred.”
The following elements are worth highlighting:
- Contractual nature
- Associative nature
- Two or more individuals or legal entities
- Common business
- Determined period of time
- The parties participate in the profits and are liable for the obligations and losses.
It should be noted that the Cc only regulates the Joint Venture Agreement and does not refer to the Joint Venture Corporation or other types of Joint Venture. According to the provisions of the Cc the contract must be executed in writing, without the need for a public deed. Its termination must be carried out in the same way its constitution was executed. The instrument evidencing the termination decision shall detail the outstanding obligations and pending credits and the way in which the parties will be liable for them.
The contract must mainly establish:
- The business purpose and the term of duration.
- The internal rules regarding control and management, establishing the way in which the members will manage their interests.
- The form of profit sharing.
- The rules concerning the representation of the Joint Venture (i.e. whether a special attorney-in-fact will be appointed or whether the associates will represent it directly).
- The way in which the parties will respond vis-à-vis third parties, for example, if the liability is joint and several or proportional to the contributions, or certain quotas.
- How relationships between participants will be managed.
- The rules concerning dispute resolution.
If the parties do not provide for or do not agree on any of the elements mentioned above, the contract will be governed by the provisions established in Cc. For example, in the event of failure to indicate the party’s liability vis-à-vis- third parties, they will be jointly and severally liable or, as the case may be, will act as joint and several co-creditors.
The specific difference between a company and a Joint Venture is that the latter is not a legal person. Since it is not a company with limited liability, but an association, the liability towards third parties is not limited to their capital contributions, but depends on what its members agree. In addition, the completion of the Joint Venture occurs with the consent of the parties in a written document and is not subject to any additional formality, nor to the control of the Superintendence of Companies.
Although the Cc does not regulate other types of Joint Venture, this does not imply that other types of Joint Venture are not allowed in Ecuador, such as:
- Joint Venture Corporation through a new company: Two (or more) parties participate as shareholders with specific roles. In this case, with the creation of a new company, the liability via-a-vis third parties depends on the type of company adopted for this purpose, but in general the liability is limited to capital contributions.
- Joint Venture Corporation through an existing company: The company of one of the parties is used to develop the business and internal accounting is kept per business unit for internal control. The liability to third parties follows the rules expressed in point i) above.
- International Joint Venture: A figure characterized by individuals or companies from different countries. The legal figure that they adopt will depend on the agreements between the parties.
From a tax standpoint, even if the Joint Venture does not have a legal personality, it must comply with its tax obligations in accordance with the scope of its contract. Thus, article 98 of the Internal Tax Regime Law (Ley Orgánica de Régimen Tributario Interno) stipulates that -for tax purposes- the Joint Venture Agreement is considered as a company, so it must be registered in the Single Taxpayer Registry (Registro Único de Contribuyentes (RUC)). In the case of a Joint Venture Corporation, tax obligations go hand in hand with the type of company adopted.
In the antitrust field, it shall be noted that the Joint Venture is subject to antitrust legislation, since its creation may require prior authorization by the antitrust authority or be sanctioned pursuant to the provisions of the Organic Law for the Control of Market Power (Ley Orgánica de Control de Poder de Mercado) and its Regulation.
In conclusion, the Joint Venture should be conceived as a useful legal figure that can provide solutions at a time when it is necessary to be practical, dynamic, and creative with resources. Although its practicality is high, it is essential to carry out a legal analysis, case by case, in order to determine if it is the best legal instrument for the business. In any case, careful planning and communication, reflected in a contract that adequately captures the parties’ will, is key.