Tax or no tax, UAE aims to remain magnet for investors

Tax or no tax, UAE aims to remain magnet for investors
A restaurant cruiser sails by the Dubai Marina Beach in the eponymous Gulf emirate of the UAE. (AFP)
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Updated 13 June 2021

Tax or no tax, UAE aims to remain magnet for investors

Tax or no tax, UAE aims to remain magnet for investors
  • Hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE has already launched a series of reforms, including to allow foreigners full ownership of businesses, whereas before it was capped at 49 percent unless based in certain free trade zones

DUBAI: Tax advantages paired with a life of luxury have long drawn foreigners and multinationals to the UAE, which is aiming to remain attractive whether or not it signs up to a global tax initiative.
The Group of Seven wealthy powers this month endorsed an “unprecedented” agreement on a global minimum corporate tax targeting major companies seen as not paying enough, especially tech giants.
The objective is a minimum tax of at least 15 percent.
While the agreement is the first step in a long process before it can become a reality, caught in the crosshairs are tax havens that attract firms such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook.
The United Arab Emirates entered the world’s top 10 tax havens for the first time in March, according to the Tax Justice Network.
Modestly called “jurisdictions with no or insignificant taxes” by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the havens include the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, the UAE and many others.
Both the UAE capital Abu Dhabi and freewheeling Dubai, the biggest draw for investors out of the UAE’s seven emirates, are home to thousands of companies that have set up regional offices there.
UAE officials have yet to issue a statement on the G7 agreement and did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
But this week Dubai announced plans to reduce in the coming months government procedures as “part of efforts to reduce the cost of doing business and further boost economic growth in the emirate.”
Hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, the UAE has already launched a series of reforms, including to allow foreigners full ownership of businesses, whereas before it was capped at 49 percent unless based in certain free trade zones.
Economy Minister Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri said the changes were a bid to boost the “competitive edge” of the country, currently 16th in the World Bank’s ease of doing business rankings.
The UAE, which relies on its image as an international hub, “will be keen to be seen as part of the global system rather than a tax haven,” said Scott Livermore of Oxford Economics Middle East.
“The upsides of remaining on the outside of the agreement is limited, especially if approved by the G20 and OECD countries,” the Dubai-based economist told AFP.
According to Livermore, even if businesses in the country see an increase in tax burden, the government was likely to “consolidate and simplify fees,” as is the case in Luxembourg and Malta, where multiple exemptions lower the final bill considerably.
“Already the authorities have realized the importance of broader business and social environment for attracting and retaining foreign investment and talent,” he said.
“This has been demonstrated by the raft of visa and business reforms announced over the past year.”
Many foreign executives are attracted to the lifestyle in Abu Dhabi and especially Dubai.
The two emirates are air hubs and offer a variety of luxury services that depend on a migrant labor force largely from South Asian countries.
The UAE’s low tax regime has been a “major carrot to dangle” before investors from abroad, said Robert Mogielnicki, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
“Emirati policymakers will have to get creative and consider restructuring various business-related fees,” he told AFP.
“But even with the envisioned impact of a minimum global corporate tax, the UAE will remain a relatively low-tax environment.”
And regardless of new taxes introduced in Gulf countries in the past years amid an economic slump due to a drop in oil prices, Mogielnicki believes the Emirates will remain competitive.
“The UAE’s commercial environment enjoys excellent connectivity to key global markets, a high standard of living, and a dynamic labor market with cost-effective, skilled expatriate labor,” he said.
“I don’t think the UAE government or its citizenry will truly miss any of the firms or investors who only care about preferential tax treatment over the long run — even if missing out on some business opportunities will sting over the short run.”


Saudi youth move away from cash, says report

Saudi youth move away from cash, says report
Updated 3 min 16 sec ago

Saudi youth move away from cash, says report

Saudi youth move away from cash, says report
  • Revenue in the Saudi e-commerce market is projected to reach $7.05 billion in 2021, according to data firm Statista

RIYADH, DUBAI: Saudi youth are increasingly drawn toward using digital payment channels rather than cash, a trend indicating that the Kingdom’s plan to create a cashless society is on course.

Only 18 percent of Saudis aged between 16 and 22 years use cash, while almost half of the people who are 60 and above still prefer using cash, a report by Fintech Saudi showed.

The report also showed that only 20 percent of the population in the central region of Saudi Arabia, which includes the capital Riyadh, use cash in their everyday transactions, while 37 percent of those living in the western region, use paper money in their daily dealings.

The use of paper currency is declining at a rapid pace.

Fintech Saudi survey results showed that around 60 percent of individuals Kingdom-wide still use paper money at least once a week and one out of four people in Saudi Arabia uses cash every day.

Under Saudi Vision 2030, the Kingdom aims to increase the number of non-cash transactions to 70 percent by 2025.

“The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak has led to an acceleration in cashless activity with digital payments increasing by 75 percent over the last year, while cash withdrawals from ATMs and other payment points have declined by 30 percent over the same period,” the report said.

Revenue in the Saudi e-commerce market is projected to reach $7.05 billion in 2021, according to data firm Statista. 

The numbers are expected to show an annual growth rate of 5.38 percent in the coming years, resulting in a projected market volume of $8.69 billion by 2025.


Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank

Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank
Updated 11 min 50 sec ago

Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank

Gulf economies expected to grow 2.2 percent this year, says World Bank
  • Most GCC countries are expected to continue to post deficits over the coming years
  • The countries that posted the largest deficits in 2020 — Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman — are expected to remain in deficit until 2023

RIYADH: Economies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will likely grow at an aggregate 2.2 percent this year after a 4.8 percent contraction last year caused by the pandemic and lower oil prices, the World Bank said on Wednesday.

“With recent progress made with the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine globally and with the revival of production and trade worldwide, the prospects for an economic recovery are firmer now than at the end of last year,” it said in a research report.

“Although downside risks remain, the forecast stands for an aggregate GCC economic turnaround of 2.2 percent in 2021 and an annual average growth of 3.3 percent in 2022–23.”

It remains vital for GCC countries — which include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE — to diversify their economies, the World Bank said, as oil revenues account for over 70 percent of total government revenues in most GCC countries.

It said it expects Kuwait and Qatar to introduce a value-added tax (VAT) this year, following the example of other GCC states that have implemented the revenue-diversifying measure in different phases over the last few years.

On the fiscal side, most GCC countries are expected to continue to post deficits over the coming years, the World Bank said, after shortfalls intensified last year because of the coronavirus crisis.

The countries that posted the largest deficits in 2020 — Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman — are expected to remain in deficit until 2023, but with narrower ratios than in the 2020 downturn. While a rebound in oil prices may lift economic prospects in the short term, the World Bank said downside risks to its outlook are “extremely high” because of the region’s heavy exposure to global oil demand and the service industries.

“Mobility restrictions including for international travel may hurt attendance at future high-profile events in the GCC — the 2020 (rescheduled to 2021) World Expo in the UAE and the 2022 Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in Qatar,” it said.


SABB records net profit of $504 million

SABB records net profit of $504 million
Updated 16 min 43 sec ago

SABB records net profit of $504 million

SABB records net profit of $504 million

JEDDAH: The Saudi British Bank (SABB) recorded a net profit after zakat and income tax of SR1,889 million ($504 million) for the six months ended on June 30, 2021.

This is an increase of SR7,785 million or 132 percent compared to the loss of SR5,896 million for the same period in 2020.

Operating income of SR3,984 million for the six months ended June 30, 2021, a decrease of SR703 million, or 15 percent, compared to SR4,687 million for the same period in 2020.

Lubna Suliman Olayan, board chair of SABB said: The bank’s “performance in the second quarter of 2021 builds on the progress made in the first quarter of the year, as we continue the implementation of our five-year strategic plan.”

She said the bank is now focused on supporting the Kingdom’s economic transformation.


Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban
Updated 04 August 2021

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban

Yemen central bank injects old riyal bills worth billions into market to challenge Houthi ban
  • The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate

ALEXANDRIA: The Central Bank of Yemen in Aden has injected billions of riyals in old large-sized 1,000 banknotes into the market to address a chronic shortage of cash.

The bank also implemented several other economic measures to control the chaotic exchange market and put an end to the fall in the Yemeni riyal.

Since late 2019, the Iran-backed Houthis have banned the use of banknotes printed by the Yemeni government in Aden, creating a severe cash crunch in areas under their control which has led to local exchange firms and banks stopping paying salaries and raising remittance charges.

The Houthi ban has forced travelers to Sanaa and other areas controlled by the militant group into buying old banknotes from the black market at a higher rate and carrying Saudi riyals or US dollars.

In a challenge to the Houthis, the central bank has put billions of riyals in old banknotes into the market and started withdrawing the newly printed 1,000 banknote. Yemenis can get old banknotes from local banks and exchange firms.

However, the Houthis warned people against using the large banknotes and published copies and serial numbers of the newly circulated cash.

In a bid to regulate the exchange market and curb the plunging value of the riyal, the central bank has tightened regulations for opening new exchange shops or firms, demanding that applicants produce a three-year feasibility study prepared by a certified accountant showing estimated budgets.

Existing exchange companies must now send their annual financial statements to the bank, use an approved software for their financial activities, apply international financial reporting standards, and audit their accounts by accountants certified by the central bank.

Some Yemeni economists, however, have cast doubt over the central bank’s ability to enact the regulations after the Yemeni riyal on Wednesday broke another historic record low against the dollar.

Local money traders told Arab News on Wednesday that the Yemeni riyal was trading at 1020 to the dollar in government-controlled areas, compared to less than 980 a month ago. When the war broke out in late 2014, the Yemeni riyal was sold at 215 to the dollar.

The Yemeni government previously relocated the central bank’s headquarters from Sanaa to Aden, floated the Yemeni riyal to bridge the gap between the official rate and the black market, closed many exchange shops, and printed billions of riyals to pay public servants. But all the measures proved ineffective on the ground as the Yemeni riyal continued to drop.

Waled Al-Attas, an assistant professor of financial and banking sciences at Hadhramout University, told Arab News: “The central bank is required to control the market and close unlicensed exchange shops in parallel with tightening control and procedures on existing exchange entities.”

He noted that the latest injection of cash into the market had boosted foreign currency speculation activities and pushed up inflation.

“The large 1,000 banknote that the central bank pumped into the market represents an additional burden and additional liquidity that will cause more inflation, higher prices, and speculation on exchange rates,” he added.

The continuing devaluation of the Yemeni riyal has pushed up food and fuel prices in government-controlled areas and triggered protests.


Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues
Updated 04 August 2021

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

Cryptocurrencies look up despite regulatory issues

RIYADH, DUBAI: While regulatory issues continue to chase cryptocurrencies, their stock saw a rise on Wednesday with Bitcoin trading higher by 1.28 percent to $39,037.94 at 5 p.m. Riyadh time.

Ether, the second most traded cryptocurrency, traded at $2,609.22, up 3.56 percent, according to data from Coindesk.

The pressure on the digital currency continues, as HSBC became the latest lender to have suspended payments to cyrptocurrency exchange platform Binance in the UK.

“We have made this decision due to concerns about the possible risks to you,” the bank said in a statement, where it cited a consumer warning by the country’s financial regulator.

Regulators in Malaysia, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Germany have previously issued warnings against Binance.

HSBC earlier said it was not planning to launch a crypto trading desk or offer digital coins as an investment, describing these assets as “volatile” and lacking of transparency.

But Wells Fargo, one of the largest wealth managers in the US, has a different stance on cryptocurrency, as it recently launched crypto investment offerings to its clients.

This was confirmed to Business Insider by the company’s spokesperson, Bitcoin.com has reported.

Also in the US, NCR Corp., a global leader in ATM software applications, said it was acquiring Libertyx, an American crypto company that claims to be the US “first and largest network of bitcoin ATMs, cashiers, and kiosks.”

In Argentina, two blockchain-based digital identity projects are being developed, according to a report by Bitcoin.com.

One of the projects is aimed at improving government-citizen relationships in Misiones, and the other seeks to promote financial inclusion in the Gran Chaco region. They are being organized by Project Didi, which financed by the Inter-American Development Bank.