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United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is urgently pursuing economic diversification and regulatory reforms to promote private sector development; reduce dependence on hydrocarbon revenues; and build a knowledge economy buttressed by advanced technology and clean energy.

The UAE serves as a major trade and investment hub for the Middle East and North Africa, as well as increasingly for South Asia, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Multinational companies cite the UAE’s political and economic stability, excellent infrastructure, developed capital markets, and a perceived absence of systemic corruption as factors contributing to the UAE’s attractiveness to foreign investors. The UAE seeks to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) by i) not charging taxes or making restrictions on the repatriation of capital; ii) allowing relatively free movement into the country of labor and low barriers to entry (effective tariffs are five percent for most goods); and iii) offering FDI incentives.

The UAE in 2021 launched broad economic and social reforms to strengthen pandemic recovery, respond to growing regional economic competition, and commemorate its 50-year founding anniversary with a series of reforms.

The UAE and the country’s seven constituent emirates have passed numerous initiatives, laws, and regulations to attract more foreign investment. Recent measures include visa reforms to attract and retain expatriate professionals, a drive to create new international economic partnerships, major investments in critical industries, and policies to encourage Emirati entrepreneurship and labor force participation. These economic development projects offer both challenges and opportunities for foreign investors in the coming years. In 2022, UAE changed its work week for government bodies from Sunday to Thursday to Monday to Thursday with a half day on Friday in order to more closely align with world markets.

Additionally, the UAE approved a comprehensive reform of the national legal system, which, among other aims, developed the legal frameworks around data privacy, investment, regulation and legal protection of industrial property, copyrights, trademarks, and residency. The first-ever federal data protection law regulates how personal data are processed across the UAE, with separate laws on government, financial, and healthcare data to follow. The new Commercial Companies law removes restrictions to facilitate further mergers and acquisition activity. The federal trademark law further expands the scope of legal protection for companies’ trademarks, products, innovations, and trade names by protecting non-traditional patterns of trademarks. These legal reforms are broadly considered to be positive by U.S. companies, but investors will need to carefully consider how these broad changes affect their operations.

The Ministry of Finance announced in January 2022 that the UAE will introduce a federal corporate tax on business profits starting in 2023 as part of its membership in the OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting. Companies await further guidance on how the new tax policy will be implemented, but it is expected to have a broad and significant impact on companies operating both inside in the UAE and “offshore” in the country’s many economic free zones.

The UAE announced in October 2021 that it would pursue net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, to include an investment of $163 billion in renewable energy.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 24 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 33 out of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $19.5 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $39,410 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are a key component of the UAE economic model. There is no published list of SOEs or GREs at the national or individual emirate level. The influential Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) is strategically important and provides a major source of revenue for the government. Emirates Airlines and Etisalat, the largest local telecommunications firm, are also internationally recognized brands. In some cases, these firms compete against other state-owned firms (Emirates and Etihad airlines, for example, or telecommunications company Etisalat against du). While they are not granted full autonomy, these firms leverage ties between entities they control to foster national economic development. In Dubai, SOEs have been used as drivers of diversification in sectors including construction, hospitality, transport, banking, logistics, and telecommunications. Sectoral regulations in some cases address governance structures and practices of state-owned companies. The UAE is not party to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a general expectation that businesses in the UAE adhere to responsible business conduct standards, and the UAE’s Governance Rules and Corporate Discipline Standards (Ministerial Resolution No 518 of 2009) encourage companies to apply social policy towards supporting local communities. In January 2021, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) UAE Fund announced that it would launch an index as an annual performance measurement tool for CSR & Sustainability practices in the UAE. Many companies maintain CSR offices and participate in CSR initiatives, including mentorship and employment training; philanthropic donations to UAE-licensed humanitarian and charity organizations; and initiatives to promote environmental sustainability. The UAE government actively supports and encourages such efforts through official government partnerships, as well as through private foundations.

In December 2021, the Dubai Executive Council approved a CSR policy to raise the role of companies and private establishments in social and economic development, and to align their projects and contributions with the priorities set by the government.

The UAE has not subscribed to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and has not actively encouraged foreign or local enterprises to follow the specific United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The UAE government has not committed to adhere to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas, nor does it participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. The Dubai Multi-Commodities Center (DMCC), however, passed the DMCC Rules for Risk-Based Due Diligence in the Gold and Precious Metals Supply Chain.

 

9. Corruption

The UAE has strict laws, regulations, and enforcement against corruption and has pursued several high-profile cases. The UAE federal penal code and the federal human resources law criminalize embezzlement and the acceptance of bribes by public and private sector workers. There is no evidence that corruption of public officials is a systemic problem. In August 2021, the president of the UAE issued a federal decree holding ministers and senior officials accountable for wrongdoing. Under the decree, the Public Prosecution can receive and accordingly investigate complaints against senior official and take necessary actions, including banning travel and freezing family financial accounts.

The Companies Law requires board directors to avoid conflicts of interest. In practice, however, given the multiple roles occupied by relatively few senior Emirati government and business officials, conflicts of interest exist. Business success in the UAE also still depends much on personal relationships. The monitoring organizations GAN Integrity and Transparency International describe the corruption environment in the UAE as low-risk and rate the UAE highly on anti-corruption efforts both regionally and globally. Some observers note, however, that the involvement of members of the ruling families and prominent merchant families in certain businesses can create economic disparities in the playing field, and most foreign companies outside the UAE’s free zones rely on an Emirati national partner, often with strong connections, who retains majority ownership. The UAE has ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

There are no civil society organizations or NGOs investigating corruption within the UAE.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:

Dr. Harib Al Amimi
President
State Audit Institution
20th Floor, Tower C2, Aseel Building, Bainuna (34th) Street, Al Bateen, Abu Dhabi, UAE
+971 2 635 9999
info@saiuae.gov.ae , reportfraud@saiuae.gov.ae

10. Political and Security Environment

Violent crimes and crimes against property are rare.  U.S. citizens should take the same security precautions in the UAE that one would practice in the United States or any large city abroad.  In March 2022, the United States published a travel advisory for UAE noting pandemic concerns and the potential for missile or drone strikes.  The latest information can be found at https://travel.state.gov/.  Visitors should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Despite a pandemic-induced economic slowdown in 2020, unemployment among UAE citizens remains low. Although there were significant departures of foreign workers during the pandemic, expatriates represent over 88.5 percent of the country’s 9.6 million residents, accounting for more than 95 percent of private sector workers. As a result, there would be large labor shortages in all sectors of the economy if not for expatriate workers. Most expatriate workers derive their legal residency status from their employment.

14. Contact for More Information

Samuel Juh
Economic Officer
First Street, Umm Hurair -1
Dubai UAE
Juhshk@state.gov

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