GCC nations look to adopt VAT ‘within a year’

Six-nation GCC expected to introduce 5 percent value-added tax at the start of 2018, senior UAE financial official says.

Saudi King Salman (C) and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders attend summit in Jeddah
GCC states hope a unanimously adopted VAT will make up for finances strained by low oil prices [Reuters]

Policymakers in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council are aiming to introduce a five percent value-added tax at the start of next year, despite administrative and technical obstacles, a senior United Arab Emirates finance official said on Sunday.

The GCC, its finances strained by low oil prices, has long planned to adopt the tax in 2018 as a way to increase non-oil revenues, but economists and officials in some countries have said privately that simultaneous introduction in all countries may not be feasible.

That is because of the complexity of creating the administrative infrastructure to collect the tax and the difficulty of training companies in compliance, in a region where taxation is minimal.

However, Younis al-Khouri, undersecretary at the UAE finance ministry, said GCC governments were planning for early, simultaneous adoption.

“By 2018, January 1, we are aiming to adopt five percent VAT across the GCC,” he said in a joint interview with Reuters news agency and fellow Thomson Reuters company Zawya.

Other GCC members are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.

‘Some sectors exempt’

Asked whether some sectors in the UAE might be exempt from the tax to reduce the drag on the economy, Khouri said the government was aiming for a five percent rate across the board, but parts of seven sectors – education, healthcare, renewable energy, water, space, transport and technology – might get special treatment.

“There might be areas … but currently, as the Ministry of Finance, we are not aiming towards exemptions, which could create some leakages, some confusion.”

Khouri said the government expected around 12 billion dirhams ($3.3bn) of revenue from the tax in its first year.

That would be about 0.9 percent of the UAE’s gross domestic product of $371bn in 2015, official data shows.

From the start, authorities will seek to register all companies with annual revenues exceeding $100,000 for the tax, and anticipate 95 percent or more of companies will comply in the initial stage.

Revenues from the tax may increase gradually with economic growth, but the government is not at present considering any increase of the tax above five percent, and would not raise it in the future without a thorough study of the economic and social impact, Khouri said.

To broaden its fundraising options, the UAE has been working on a debt law that would allow the federal government, not just the seven individual emirates, to issue sovereign bonds.

Khouri said authorities had wanted the law to pass at the end of last year, but unspecified issues within the ministry had prevented this.

“The sooner for the UAE, the better it will be for the country,” he said.

Once the law is passed, the federal government will aim to start issuing debt within six months, but its minimal budget deficit means the debt will not be used to fund the budget.

Instead, it will be issued in conjunction with the central bank to manage liquidity in the banking system, he said.

Source: Reuters