Companies across the UAE need to be up to date and comply with the UAE’s economic substance regulations (ESR) unless they want to incur heavy fines for their failure to comply, experts have said.
In a recent webinar organised by the Dubai Chamber, in collaboration with Al Tamimi & Company, experts highlighted the latest developments and provided guidance with respect to the economic substance regime and compliance requirements. The webinar, titled ‘Key Aspects of Economic Substance Regulations’, noted that the UAE has issued the Economic Substance Regulations in April 2019 and followed them with an updated guidance on relevant activities by the Ministry of Finance to help businesses to demonstrate economic presence in the UAE.
The UAE adopted new economic substance regulations in Cabinet Resolution No. 31 of 2019. These regulations provide that a company engaged in one of a number of specified sectors must have sufficient economic substance in the territory to access the territory's tax regime. The changes were in response to pressure from the EU on a number of territories, following recommendations from its EU Code of Conduct Group, and apply for financial years starting on or after January 1, 2019. The key activities identified by the European Commission Code of Conduct Group are: banking, insurance, fund management, financing and leasing, shipping, intellectual property, collective investment vehicles, and holding companies that generate income from any of these key activities.
Shiraz Khan, head of Taxation at Al Tamimi & Company, said that tax is a key revenue generation for many countries that don’t have an abundance of natural resources. “These countries generally rely on taxes to fund their public expenditure.”
One of the biggest concerns during the 2008 downturn, he said, revolved around tax evasion. “Many international companies around the world, with the advent of globalisation, were essentially operating in multiple countries and moving money from high tax jurisdictions into low tax jurisdictions and therefore paying less tax as a result.”
The UAE Ministry of Finance (MoF) in August 2020 announced the details of the Cabinet Resolution No. (57) of 2020 concerning Economic Substance Regulations. The Resolution was issued in consultation with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the European Union Code of Conduct Group, in order to direct companies that engage in one or more relevant activities. The resolution amended and repealed the Cabinet of Ministers Resolution No. (31) of 2019 concerning Economic Substance. Under the resolution, the UAE Federal Tax Authority (FTA) was appointed as the National Assessing Authority for the purposes of the UAE Economic Substance Regulations.
According to the resolution, the definition of a Licensee was amended to be limited to juridical persons and unincorporated partnerships that are registered (whether by way of commercial/trade license or other form of permit) to carry out a Relevant Activity. Natural persons, sole proprietorships and other business forms that are not juridical entities are no longer within the scope of the UAE economic substance regulations.
Noff Al-Khafaji, senior associate, Corporate Structuring at Al Tamimi & Company, noted that the UAE Ministry of Finance, in May 2020, issued a Covid-19 advisory extending the notification filing deadline and consideration of the impact of the pandemic on businesses. In January 2021, the MoF announced that the December 31, 2020 filing deadline for ESR notification and report (if applicable) was extended to January 31, 2020. Failure to provide notification and any relevant information or documentation will result in a Dh20,000 fine, she said. Also, providing inaccurate information will result in a Dh50,000 fine. Failure to submit an ES report can result in a fine of Dh50,000 in the first year, and a fine of Dh400,000 in the second consecutive year of failure.
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