How global traders in UAE Free Zones can avoid the new Value Added Tax
The recent imposition of a value-added tax (VAT) by the UAE raised concerns amongst global traders that the Gulf country was moving away from its traditional role of drawing in multinational investors, particularly those who use the region as a transfer hub for goods being re-exported to other destinations in the Middle East and beyond. The VAT would, after all, increase landed costs and in turn, generate a price spike for the end consumer, making products less competitive.
To ease investors’ fears, the UAE’s government has established a new, albeit complex, regime to allow global traders to continue to take advantage of the UAE’s traditional Free Trade Zones or FTZs where imports have not been traditionally subject to duties and taxes.
A Critical Region
The United Arab Emirates (UAE), by its location, has served as a centre for trade for centuries. In recent times, Free Trade Zones (FTZs) in the UAE have helped global enterprises to serve a market size of approximately two billion people who live within a four-hour flying distance from the UAE. The UAE’s considerable investments in FTZ infrastructure that support imports and re-exports through air, land and sea modes, have contributed in making the country a global logistics hub.
As with most FTZs, imported goods are not subject to import or export duties. Thus, goods meant for regional markets are imported in bulk into UAE FTZs from production facilities around the world and then redistributed after additional processing, packaging or having been broken down to market-determined transaction quantities. According to the UAE Central Bank, a total of $61.2 billion was exported from UAE FTZs in 2017, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the country’s exports that year.
Designated Free Zones
The new VAT regime implemented in 2018 applies a consumption tax on the supply of goods and services which take place within the territory of the UAE. Historically, FTZs have been considered outside the UAE territory for the application of import duty. However, for the purposes of VAT, the UAE has not extended a similar treatment to FTZs and they are deemed a part of the UAE territory for the purposes of VAT.
The UAE Cabinet has identified certain free trade zones, called Designated Zones, in which certain transactions are considered as being completed outside the UAE and, in turn, not subject to the VAT. However, businesses registered in Designated Zones have the same VAT obligations as non-Designated Zone businesses and must register, report and account for VAT under the VAT rules.
Following are the main scenarios and the VAT treatment that applies to them from Designated Zones
Services rendered from within a Designated Zone to a UAE or Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) consumer will have the VAT applied, while all services rendered to a consumer outside the GCC will not.
Goods sold within the Designated Zones are subject to VAT only if the goods are consumed within the same Designated Zone. If they are being purchased for the purposes of producing, modifying or forming a part of another good located in the same Designated Zone, they are not subject to the VAT.
Goods from outside the UAE to a Designated Zone are not subject to the VAT. However, it is expected that once VATs are applied by other GCC countries, goods entering UAE Designated Zones from those GCC countries will be subject to VAT.
Goods from within the UAE into Designated Zones are treated as being made in UAE territory and are not considered as an export from the UAE and, therefore, will be subject to the VAT.
A sale or movement of goods between Designated Zones will not have the VAT applied. However, the goods being transferred must not be released in whole or in part into domestic circulation during the transfer, and must not be used or altered in any way during the transfer between Designated Zones. The goods must also comply with the rules of Customs duty suspension (Goods in Transit) as per the Gulf Cooperation Council Common Customs Law.
Goods from Designated Zones to a buyer onshore in the UAE are subject to the VAT, because they are treated as an import into the UAE. It must also be noted that VAT could be charged again on a subsequent sale of the goods within the mainland if it is being made by a person subject to the VAT.
Goods in a Designated Zone on which VAT has not been paid and consumed by the owner of the goods will be treated as having been imported into the UAE and VAT will be applied accordingly.
The table below provides a high-level picture of the applicability of VAT on different types of transactions.
In short, with the introduction of Designated Zones, the UAE government has aimed to ensure that businesses based in these zones are not subject to VAT if the goods being traded are meant for markets outside the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.