New UAE employee fees and visa scheme set to aid private sector

Jobseekers will be able to avail of a six-month visa while they look for work in the UAE. Above, Dubai Airport. (Shutterstock)
Updated 14 June 2018
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New UAE employee fees and visa scheme set to aid private sector

  • The UAE introduced a string of business reform measures late on Wednesday, including the reworking of business fees to hire private sector workers and more flexible visa regulations.
  • Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum: “The UAE is among the 10 most competitive countries in the world and our goal is to remain a top destination for ease of doing business, through an agile economy based on flexibility and openness.”

LONDON: New measures introduced by the UAE to encourage business competitiveness are set to provide a boost for private sector growth, as the country eases back on spending restrictions following a recovery in oil prices.
The UAE introduced a string of business reform measures late on Wednesday, including the reworking of business fees to hire private sector workers and more flexible visa regulations.
“With oil recovering, the UAE is in one of the best positions to loosen fiscal policy as it has massive savings and sovereign wealth,” said Jason Turvey, Middle East analyst for Capital Economics.
A key measure introduced is the scrapping of fees businesses pay to hire private sector workers, many of whom are expats. Fees have been replaced by an insurance system.
Businesses will now pay an annual tariff of 60 dirhams ($16.34) per worker instead of a deposit of 3,000 dirhams, according to the state-owned WAM news agency.
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s prime minister and ruler of Dubai, tweeted that the move would save billions.
“In a cabinet meeting today, we approved reforms including replacing the bank guarantee system for private sector employees with a low-cost insurance scheme. This will release 14 billion dirhams back to the private sector companies and will further lower the cost of doing business,” he tweeted late on Wednesday.
The latest announcement comes on top of a recently announced stimulus package worth $13.6 billion for the emirate of Abu Dhabi, including plans to ease restrictions on full foreign ownership of UAE businesses and to let some foreigners stay longer, thereby reducing the amount of earnings sent out of the country.
The latest batch of measures is also linked to tourism and hospitality with a pledge to exempt transit passengers from entry fees in the first 48 hours. A transit visa extension will be made available for up to 96 hours for a fee of 50 dirhams.
“Tourism should be supported by this and other measures at a time when the industry has faced headwinds such as the strong dollar,” Monika Malik, chief economist of Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, told Arab News.
Other measures include the introduction of a six-month visa for jobseekers who overstay their visa but want to work in the country, and a temporary visa to enhance the UAE’s position “as a land of opportunities, a destination for talents and professionals,” according to Sheikh Mohammed.
Lower oil revenue and weaker regional economies have hurt growth in the UAE, where expatriates make up about 80 percent of the population. Last year, growth slumped to an inflation-adjusted 0.5 percent after OPEC nations agreed to production cuts, down from 3 percent in 2016.
“Visa reforms are part of overall measures to improve the business environment and boost economic competitiveness,” said Malik.
An immediate lift to employment was unlikely, she said, but the measures would improve company liquidity and profit margins, and possibly lead to increased capital expenditure.
Sheikh Mohammed said: “The UAE is among the 10 most competitive countries in the world and our goal is to remain a top destination for ease of doing business, through an agile economy based on flexibility and openness.”
“Gulf countries want to encourage new industries and attract foreign capital. The rebound in crude prices has given them more room for spending,” Turvey told Arab News.
“Saudi Arabia has also announced plans to revive growth as austerity is reined back,” he said.
“With oil recovering, UAE and others can afford to loosen fiscal policy.”
Measures taken recently by Dubai have included a one-year freeze on school-fee hikes, and a waiving of some fees on aviation and real estate transactions that will help cut the cost of living and doing business.
A research note from Emirates NBD said the latest UAE measures should offer some relief for businesses across all sectors, boosting the key transport and logistics sector.
“The measures were broader in scope than we had expected following the instructions to reduce the cost of doing business in the emirate,” the bank said.


Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

Updated 15 June 2019
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Gulf of Oman tanker attacks jolt oil-import dependent Asia

  • Iranian threats to close the Strait of Hormuz have alarmed Japan, China and South Korea
  • Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran when the attack happened

SEOUL: The blasts detonated far from the bustling megacities of Asia, but the attack this week on two tankers in the strategic Strait of Hormuz hits at the heart of the region’s oil import-dependent economies.

While the violence only directly jolted two countries in the region — one of the targeted ships was operated by a Tokyo-based company, a nearby South Korean-operated vessel helped rescue sailors — it will unnerve major economies throughout Asia.

Officials, analysts and media commentators on Friday hammered home the importance of the Strait of Hormuz for Asia, calling it a crucial lifeline, and there was deep interest in more details about the still-sketchy attack and what the US and Iran would do in the aftermath.

In the end, whether Asia shrugs it off, as some analysts predict, or its economies shudder as a result, the attack highlights the widespread worries over an extreme reliance on a single strip of water for the oil that fuels much of the region’s shared progress.

Here is a look at how Asia is handling rising tensions in a faraway but economically crucial area, compiled by AP reporters from around the world:

WHY ASIA WORRIES

The oil, of course.

Japan, South Korea and China don’t have enough of it; the Middle East does, and much of it flows through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, which is the passage between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

This could make Asia vulnerable to supply disruptions from US-Iran tensions or violence in the strait.

The attack comes months after Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz to retaliate against US economic sanctions, which tightened in April when  the Trump administration decided to end sanctions exemptions for the five biggest importers of Iranian oil, which included China and US allies South Korea and Japan.

Japan is the world’s fourth-largest consumer of oil — after the US, China and India — and relies on the Middle East for 80 per cent of its crude oil supply. The 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster led to a dramatic reduction in Japanese nuclear power generation and increased imports of natural gas, crude oil, fuel oil and coal.

In an effort to comply with Washington, Japan says it no longer imports oil from Iran. Officials also say Japanese oil companies are abiding by the embargo because they don’t want to be sanctioned. But Japan still gets oil from other Middle East nations using the Strait of Hormuz for transport.

South Korea, the world’s fifth largest importer of crude oil, also depends on the Middle East for the vast majority of its supplies.

Last month, South Korea halted its Iranian oil imports as its waivers from US sanctions on Teheran expired, and it has reportedly tried to increase oil imports from other countries.

China, the world’s largest importer of Iranian oil, “understands its growth model is vulnerable to a lack of energy sovereignty,” according to market analyst Kyle Rodda of IG, an online trading provider, and has been working over the last several years to diversify its suppliers. That includes looking to Southeast Asia and, increasingly, some oil-producing nations in Africa.

THE GEOGRAPHY AND THE POLITICS

Asia and the Middle East are linked by a flow of oil, much of it coming by sea and dependent on the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran threatened to close the strait in April. It also appears poised to break a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, an accord that US President Donald Trump withdrew from last year. Under the deal saw Tehran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

For both Japan and South Korea, there is extreme political unease to go along with the economic worries stirred by the violence in the strait.

Both nations want to nurture their relationship with Washington, a major trading partner and military protector. But they also need to keep their economies humming, which requires an easing of tension between Washington and Tehran.

Japan’s conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Tehran, looking to do just that when the attack happened.

His limitations in settling the simmering animosity, however, were highlighted by both the timing of the attack and a comment by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who told Abe that he had nothing to say to Trump.

In Japan, the world’s third largest economy, the tanker attack was front-page news.

The Nikkei newspaper, Japan’s major business daily, said that if mines are planted in the Strait of Hormuz, “oil trade will be paralyzed.” The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper called the Strait of Hormuz Japan’s “lifeline.”

Although the Japanese economy and industry minister has said there will be no immediate effect on stable energy supplies, the Tokyo Shimbun noted “a possibility that Japanese people’s lives will be affected.”

South Korea, worried about Middle East instability, has worked to diversify its crude sources since the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s.

THE FUTURE

Analysts said it’s highly unlikely that Iran would follow through on its threat to close the strait. That’s because a closure could also disrupt Iran’s exports to China, which has been working with Russia to build pipelines and other infrastructure that would transport oil and gas into China.

For Japan, the attack in the Strait of Hormuz does not represent an imminent threat to Tokyo’s oil supply, said Paul Sheldon, chief geopolitical adviser at S&P Global Platts Analytics.

“Our sense is that it’s not a crisis yet,” he said of the tensions.

Seoul, meanwhile, will likely be able to withstand a modest jump in oil prices unless there’s a full-blown military confrontation, Seo Sang-young, an analyst from Seoul-based Kiwoom Securities, said.

“The rise in crude prices could hurt areas like the airlines, chemicals and shipping, but it could also actually benefit some businesses, such as energy companies (including refineries) that produce and export fuel products like gasoline,” said Seo, pointing to the diversity of South Korea’s industrial lineup. South Korea’s shipbuilding industry could also benefit as the rise in oil prices could further boost the growing demand for liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which means more orders for giant tankers that transport such gas.