UAE's maritime industry seeking VAT exemption

The UAE has climbed to sixth place in 2017 from seventh in 2015 on the list of the future leading maritime capitals.

  
Dubai tops charts as global maritime leisure destination.

Dubai tops charts as global maritime leisure destination.

Dubai Maritime City Authority/Handout via Thomson Reuters Zawya

The UAE maritime industry is seeking exemption from the value-added tax levied earlier this year in line with global practices as many countries have relieved the industry from VAT, industry executives said.

They believe that the UAE needs to look at the fees and other charges in order to become more competitive and also needs to update its maritime law.

"It is important to think about the regulations especially the VAT because many countries around the world have exempted the shipping industry from VAT and it is important. There is discussion with the government and we hope this will be taken positively. I guess we have to apply what applies anywhere else; and the principal is that the shipping industry is usually kept free from VAT," said Khamis Juma Buamim, managing director and group CEO, Gulf Navigation Holding.

The UAE Cabinet last week announced exemption for the gold and precious metals trade from VAT to revive the industry.

"In general, there are too many fees and charges and too many time-wasting [requirements to obtain services]. Time means money and people seriously think about how much time they spend [on obtaining these services]," he added.

Buamim pointed out that the UAE also needs a new holistic investment-driven maritime law. "Once you have that new law, then you are on the right track because other countries are changing their laws and investment strategies. The UAE law is very old and it needs to be updated and it is important."

Buamim was speaking on the sidelines of the UAE Maritime Leaders Roundtable Discussion held in Dubai on Sunday to discuss the status of the UAE maritime industry and the main obstacles facing existing investors.

Buamim noted that the UAE's ability to attract major ship owners requires careful consideration of the key aspects that these players are looking for in a host country, which is a combination of ease of doing business, favourable and predictable policy framework, availability of maritime technology and levels of openness and information sharing.

Kapil Mehta, head of trade and marketing for the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Iran at Maersk Line, said any trading hub has to make sure that the cost of doing business is kept to a bare minimum.

"The cost of doing business in the UAE is showing up in various shapes and forms and VAT is one of them. Land cost, warehousing and fee for getting people in such as visa fee is adding to the costs and that is something that impacts the trading business negatively. The UAE needs to take notice of the fact that they are becoming increasingly expensive to be in and to work with and they need to do something about changing it," Mehta said.

He pointed out that the UAE maritime industry needs to refocus itself because the routes of the UAE started with the main trading business for the region and now it has gone more towards real estate and energy-related businesses. Hence, a lot of conventional trading business has taken sidestep and that has also created a way for other countries to capitalise on this and the business is moving away.

"It would benefit the UAE a lot in terms of diversifying away from the huge reliance on real estate and energy into a regional trading hub that it can emerge into," he said.

Tarek Saad, partner, Baker McKenzie Habib Al Mulla, stated that they are actively working with all parties, governments and private sector in order to develop a new maritime law in the UAE that will have a significant impact on enhancing investments in the maritime sector.

Hessa Al Malek, CEO of Maritime Transport at Federal Transport Authority (FTA), said: "We will prioritise all the major challenges that were addressed from the main maritime key players as we are keen to strengthen the joint efforts between both government and private sectors to achieve a common vision to boost the UAE's leadership in the maritime sector."

She said the UAE has maintained its leading position among the most attractive maritime business environment, in addition to climbing to sixth place in 2017 from seventh in 2015 on the list of the future leading maritime capitals.

"Moreover, the UAE placed 12th in 2017 from 13th in 2015 on the list of maritime finance and law services and progressed from 15th to 14th place in terms of maritime technology. These achievements demonstrate the UAE's global competitiveness and progress towards the government's ambitious vision of transforming the UAE into the world's top maritime centres," she said.

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