Dubai diamond chief warns VAT will lead to business exodus

Women walk past a shop at the Gold and Diamond Park in Dubai. The UAE and other Gulf countries are set to introduce a tax on goods from January next year. (Reuters)
Updated 17 October 2017

Dubai diamond chief warns VAT will lead to business exodus

DUBAI: The introduction of value added tax could lead to an “exodus” of firms in the gold and diamond industry from the UAE, Ahmed Bin Sulayem, executive chairman of the Dubai free zone where those businesses are based, warned yesterday.
In a strongly worded message to the Dubai Diamond Conference, Bin Sulayem urged the UAE federal tax authorities to think again about imposing VAT on the wholesale precious metals and gems business, which he said could see firms leaving Dubai to other centers like Hong Kong and Singapore.
He is the first senior businessman in the UAE to openly question the authorities on the plan to introduce VAT in the region. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are among states that have pledged to introduce the tax at a 5 percent rate at the beginning of next year
“I cannot emphasize enough how critical this topic is for Dubai as a trading hub. The history books will not judge kindly and credit the tax authority for driving business out of Dubai,” he said.
“This nation was founded on the principles of a tax-free environment for import and re-export. Our success is largely built on a mindset that industry drives government, not that government drives industry. This has long been our competitive edge.
“But the introduction of VAT here in the UAE next year, while one of the lowest (rates) in the world, leaves us, our member companies, and our industries genuinely concerned.
“Among Dubai’s gold and diamond businesses, there is a sincere feeling of uncertainty,” he added.
He pointed out that when Germany and Holland taxed the diamond trade in the past it led to a move to Luxembourg and Belgium respectively.
The gold and diamond industry in Dubai has grown strongly over the past 15 years, to the extent that the Dubai Multi Commodities Center, where the gold and diamond trade is based, is now the third biggest diamond trading center in the world, after Mumbai and Antwerp.
Bin Sulayem said that he knew of two gold refineries in the UAE which were already planning to move operations to Hong Kong as a result of the threat of VAT.
He said that there had been no clarification from the UAE federal tax authorities on its plans for the wholesale gold and diamond industry once VAT is introduced. He was hoping for talks in the next few weeks.
The precious metals and diamond business in Dubai is already suffering. “The businesses in the Gold Souk here in Dubai are reporting that volumes are down between 30 to 40 percent compared with 2016. This is driven by customs duties and a decline of the wholesale gold jewelry trade,” Bin Sulayem said.
Peter Meeus, chairman of the Dubai Diamond Exchange, told the conference that the global diamond industry was already experiencing severe financial problems, with lack of demand and falling prices. “If the (VAT) does not get solved all we have done in the last 15 years in Dubai will be as nothing,” he said.


US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

Updated 10 December 2019

US trade offensive takes out WTO as global arbiter

  • Two years after starting to block appointments, the US will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body
  • Two of three members of Appellate Body exit and leave it unable to issue rulings

BRUSSELS: US disruption of the global economic order reaches a major milestone on Tuesday as the World Trade Organization (WTO) loses its ability to intervene in trade wars, threatening the future of the Geneva-based body.
Two years after starting to block appointments, the United States will finally paralyze the WTO’s Appellate Body, which acts as the supreme court for international trade, as two of three members exit and leave it unable to issue rulings.
Major trade disputes, including the US conflict with China and metal tariffs imposed by US President Donald Trump, will not be resolved by the global trade arbiter.
Stephen Vaughn, who served as general counsel to the US Trade Representative during Trump’s first two years, said many disputes would be settled in future by negotiations.
Critics say this means a return to a post-war period of inconsistent settlements, problems the WTO’s creation in 1995 was designed to fix.
The EU ambassador to the WTO told counterparts in Geneva on Monday the Appellate Body’s paralysis risked creating a system of economic relations based on power rather than rules.
The crippling of dispute settlement comes as the WTO also struggles in its other major role of opening markets.
The WTO club of 164 has not produced any international accord since abandoning “Doha Round” negotiations in 2015.
Trade-restrictive measures among the G20 group of largest economies are at historic highs, compounded by Trump’s “America First” agenda and the trade war with China.
Phil Hogan, the European Union’s new trade commissioner, said on Friday the WTO was no longer fit for purpose and in dire need of reforms going beyond just fixing the appeals mechanism.
For developed countries, in particular, the WTO’s rules must change to take account of state-controlled enterprises.
In 2017, Japan brought together the United States and the European Union in a joint bid to set new global rules on state subsidies and forced technology transfers.
The US is also pushing to limit the ability of WTO members to grant themselves developing status, which for example gives them longer to implement WTO agreements.
Such “developing countries” include Singapore and Israel, but China is the clear focus.
US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters last week the United States wanted to end concessions given to then struggling economies that were no longer appropriate.
“We’ve been spoiling countries for a very, very long time, so naturally they’re pushing back as we try to change things,” he said.
The trouble with WTO reform is that changes require consensus to pass. That includes Chinese backing.
Beijing has published its own reform proposals with a string of grievances against US actions. Reform should resolve crucial issues threatening the WTO’s existence, while preserving the interests of developing countries.
Many observers believe the WTO faces a pivotal moment in mid-2020 when its trade ministers gather in a drive to push through a multinational deal — on cutting fishing subsidies.
“It’s not the WTO that will save the fish. It’s the fish that are going to save the WTO,” said one ambassador.