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United Arab Emirates

Executive Summary

The Government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is urgently pursuing economic diversification to promote private sector development as a complement to the historical economic dominance of the state, to lessen its reliance on an unsustainable hydrocarbon industry, and to strengthen the country’s economic resilience amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UAE serves as a major trade and investment hub for the Middle East and North Africa, and increasingly 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 positive factors contributing to the UAE’s attractiveness to foreign investors.

The UAE and the country’s seven constituent emirates have passed numerous initiatives, laws, and regulations to attract more foreign investment.  Notable reforms introduced since 2020 include amendments to the UAE’s citizenship law, which allow foreign investors, members of certain professions, those with special talents, and their families to acquire long-term residency, Emirati passports, and citizenship.  The UAE issued Federal Decree-Law Number 26 in 2020, relaxing restrictions on foreign ownership of commercial companies.  The decree also annulled the requirement that commercial companies must be majority-owned by Emirati nationals, must have a majority-Emirati board, or must maintain an Emirati agent.  This effectively allowed majority or full foreign ownership of onshore companies in many sectors.  The decree granted licensed foreign investments the same treatment as national companies within the limits permitted by the legislation in force and provided better protection for minority shareholders. The new decree is unlikely to apply to state-owned entities and companies operating in strategically important sectors, such as oil and gas, defense, utilities, and transport.

While the UAE implemented an excise tax on certain products in October 2017 and a five percent Value-Added Tax (VAT) on most products and services beginning in January 2018, many investors continue to cite the absence of corporate and personal income taxes as a strength of the local investment climate relative to other regional options.

Foreign investors expressed concern over a lack of regulatory transparency, as well as weak dispute resolution mechanisms and insolvency laws.  In 2020, the federal Cabinet approved a resolution aimed at combating commercial fraud.  This resolution established a unified federal mechanism to deal with commercial fraud across the UAE and outlined a process for removal and destruction of counterfeit products.  Labor rights and conditions, although improving, continue to be an area of concern as the UAE prohibits both labor unions and worker strikes.

Free trade zones (FTZs) form a vital component of the local economy and serve as major re-export centers to other markets in the Gulf, South Asia, and Africa.  While the new decree allowing 100 percent foreign business ownership neutralizes one of the most important advantages FTZs offer foreign investors, U.S. and multinational companies indicate that these zones tend to have stronger and more equitable legal and regulatory frameworks for foreign investors than onshore jurisdictions.  FTZ-based firms also enjoy 100 percent import and export tax exemptions, 100 percent exemptions from commercial levies, and may repatriate 100 percent of capital and profits.  Goods and services delivered onshore by FTZ companies are subject to the five percent VAT.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 21 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 16 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 34 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $17.2 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $43,470 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) 

The UAE actively seeks FDI, citing it as a key part of its long-term economic development plans.  The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated government efforts to attract foreign investment to promote economic growth.  A letter issued by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MbR) on January 4, 2020 outlined the ruler’s vision for the next 50 years, pledging increased government accountability and a push for greater government efficiency.  In 2015, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development launched the Dubai Investment Development Agency (Dubai FDI), an agency that provides essential information and invaluable support to foreign businesses looking to invest in Dubai’s thriving economy and take advantage of its global strategic importance.  The government of Abu Dhabi continues implementing its Economic Vision 2030, which aims at building an open, efficient, effective, and globally integrated economy.  In 2018, Abu Dhabi’s Department of Economic Development launched the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to attract foreign investments in the local economy by providing investors with clear data and information regarding the investment environment and the competitive edge of the emirate.

Federal Decree Law No. 26 of 2020 repealed the FDI Law (Federal Law No. 19 of 2018) effective January 2, 2021 and amended significant provisions of the Commercial Companies Law (Federal Law No. 2 of 2015).  As a result, onshore UAE companies are no longer required to have a UAE national or a GCC national as a majority shareholder.  UAE joint stock companies no longer must be chaired by an Emirati citizen or have the majority of its board be comprised of Emirati citizens.  Local branches of foreign companies are no longer required to have a UAE national or a UAE-owned company act as an agent.  An intra-emirate committee will recommend to the Cabinet a list of strategically important sectors requiring additional licensing restrictions, and companies operating in these sectors, likely including oil and gas, defense, utilities, and transportation, will remain subject to the above-described restrictions.  Analysts expect this list will be similar to the list of economic sectors in which foreign investment is barred under the recently abolished FDI Law.  The decree also grants emirate-level authorities powers to establish additional licensing restrictions.  These amendments will become effective six months after the publication of the law in the official gazette and require the publication of the Strategic Impact List to be implementable.  Until this happens, existing requirements for UAE or GCC majority shareholding still apply.

Federal Decree Law No. 26 of 2020 introduced provisions to protect the rights of minority shareholders.  It lowered the ownership threshold required to call for a general assembly and introduce agenda items.  It expedited the process for shareholders to assist a company in financial distress.  It extended mandates of external auditors.  It added additional flexibility in the IPO process to allow new investors to participate.  It also calls for additional regulations from the Ministry of Economy to address governance and related-party transactions.

Federal Law No. 11 of 2020 amended the Commercial Agencies Law (Federal Law No. 18 of 1981), which allowed UAE companies not fully owned by Emirati citizens to act as commercial agents.  These companies must still be majority-owned by Emirati citizens.

Non-tariff barriers to investment persist in the form of visa sponsorship and distributorship requirements.  Several constituent emirates, including Dubai, have recently introduced new long-term residency visas and land ownership rights to attract and retain expatriates with sought-after skills in the UAE.  In October 2020, Ras Al Khaimah Real estate developer Al Hamra, in partnership with Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone, began offering investors a 12-year residence visa and a business license when they purchased a residential property in Al Hamra Village or Bab Al Bahr.

 Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment  

As documented above, Federal Decree-Law Number 26 annulled the requirement commercial companies be majority-owned by Emirati citizens, have a majority-Emirati board, or maintain an Emirati agent effectively allowing majority or full foreign ownership of onshore companies in many sectors.  The annulment will not apply to companies operating in strategically important sectors.

Neither Embassy Abu Dhabi nor Consulate General Dubai (collectively referred to as Mission UAE) has received any complaints from U.S. investors that they have been disadvantaged relative to other non-GCC investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The UAE government underwent a World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade Policy Review in 2016.  The full WTO Review is available at:  https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/s338_e.pdf

Business Facilitation  

UAE officials emphasize the importance of facilitating business investment and tout the broad network of free trade zones as attractive to foreign investors.  The UAE’s business registration process varies by emirate, but generally happens through an emirate’s Department of Economic Development.  Links to information portals from each of the emirates are available at https://ger.co/economy/197.  At a minimum, a company must generally register with the Department of Economic Development, the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization, and the General Authority for Pension and Social Security, with a notary required in the process. In response to the pandemic, UAE authorities temporarily reduced fees, permits, and licenses to stimulate business formation in the onshore and free zone sectors.

In February 2021, Dubai launched the Invest in Dubai platform, a “single-window” service enabling investors to obtain trade licenses and launch their business quickly.  In August 2020, the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) introduced a new license for startups, entrepreneurs, and technology firms, starting at $1,500 per year.  In October 2019, Dubai introduced a ‘Virtual Business License’ for non-resident entrepreneurs and freelancers in 101 countries.  In 2019, the Dubai Free Zone Council allowed companies to operate out of multiple free zones in Dubai through a single license under the “one free zone passport” scheme.  In 2017, Dubai’s Department of Economic Development introduced an “Instant License” program, under which investors can obtain a license valid for one year in minutes without a registered lease agreement.   In November 2020, the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development issued a resolution permitting non-citizens to obtain freelancer licenses allowing them to engage in 48 economic activities.  The licenses were previously limited to UAE nationals only.  In 2018, Abu Dhabi announced the issuance of dual licenses enabling free zone companies to operate onshore and to compete for government tenders.  In 2018, Sharjah announced that foreigners may purchase property in the emirate without a UAE residency visa on a 100-year renewable land lease basis.

Outward Investment  

The UAE is an important participant in global capital markets, primarily through its sovereign wealth funds, as well as through several emirate-level, government-related investment corporations.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System  

The onshore regulatory and legal framework in the UAE generally favors local Emirati investors over foreign investors.

The Trade Companies Law requires all companies to apply international accounting standards and practices, generally the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS).  The UAE does not have local generally accepted accounting principles.

Generally, legislation is only published after it has been enacted into law and is not formally available for public comment beforehand.  Government-friendly press occasionally reports details of high-profile legislation.  The government may consult with large private sector stakeholders on draft legislation on an ad hoc basis.  Final versions of federal laws are published in Arabic in an official register “The Official Gazette,” though there are private companies that translate laws into English.  The UAE Ministry of Justice (MoJ) maintains a partial library of translated laws on its website.  Other ministries and departments inconsistently offer official English translations via their websites.  The emirates of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah publish official gazettes online in Arabic.  Regulators are not required to publish proposed regulations before enactment, but may share them either publicly or with stakeholders on a case-by-case basis.

International Regulatory Considerations 

The UAE is a member of the GCC, along with Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.  It maintains regulatory autonomy, but coordinates efforts with other GCC members through the GCC Standardization Organization (GSO).  In 2020, the UAE submitted 72 notifications to the WTO committee, including notifications of emergency measures and issues relating to Intellectual Property Rights.

Legal System and Judicial Independence  

Islam is identified as the state religion in the UAE constitution, and serves as the principal source of domestic law.  The legal system of the country is generally divided between a British-based system of common law used in offshore FTZs and onshore domestic law.  Domestic law is a dual legal system of civil and Sharia laws – the majority of which has been codified.  Most codified legislation in the UAE is a mixture of Islamic law and other civil laws such as Egyptian and French civil laws.

Common law principles, such as following legal precedents, are generally not recognized in the UAE, although lower courts commonly follow higher court judgments.  Judgments of foreign civil courts are typically recognized and enforceable under local courts.  The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York signed a memorandum with Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) courts providing companies operating in Dubai and New York with procedures for the mutual enforcement of financial judgments.  The Abu Dhabi-based financial free zone hub Abu Dhabi Global Financial Market (ADGM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department in February 2018 allowing reciprocal enforcement of judgments, decisions, orders, and arbitral awards between ADGM and Abu Dhabi courts.

The UAE constitution stipulates each emirate can set up a local emirate-level judicial system (local courts) or rely exclusively on federal courts.  The Federal Judicial Authority has jurisdiction over all cases involving a “federal entity” with the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi, the highest court at the federal level.  Federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction in seven categories of cases:  disputes between emirates; disputes between an emirate and the federal government; cases involving national security; interpretation of the constitution; questions over the constitutionality of a law; and cases involving the actions of appointed ministers and senior officials while performing their official duties.  The federal government administers the courts in Ajman, Fujairah, Umm al Quwain, and Sharjah, including vetting, appointing, and paying judges.  Judges in these courts apply both local and federal law, as appropriate.  Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi administer their own local courts, hiring, vetting, and paying local judges and attorneys.  Local courts in Dubai, Ras al Khaimah, and Abu Dhabi have jurisdiction over all matters not specifically reserved for federal courts in the constitution.  Abu Dhabi operates both local (the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department) and federal courts in parallel.

Family Law:  In November 2020, the UAE government issued Federal Law Number 8 (2019), amending to the UAE Family Law.  The reforms liberalized laws related to cohabitation by unmarried couples, divorce and separation, custody, execution of wills and asset distribution, use of alcohol, suicide, and the protection of women.  The amendments stipulated that in a divorce taking place in the UAE by a couple married abroad, the legal proceedings would be governed by the laws of their home country.  The reforms also decriminalized alcohol consumption and removed the licensing requirement to purchase alcohol.

Probate:  The UAE Government announced in November 2020 that in the absence of a will, probate laws of the deceased’s country of citizenship would prevail.  Prior to this reform, Sharia law inheritance provisions determined the disposal of a UAE non-national resident’s assets on his or her death in most cases.  The new Federal decree-law no. 29 of 2020 allows each emirate to maintain a registry for non-UAE national wills.

Employment Law:  Employment in the private sector outside of financial free zones is regulated by Federal Law No. 8 of 1980.  The Labor Law defines working hours, leave entitlements, safety, and healthcare regulations.  There is no minimum wage defined by the law and trade unions, strikes, and collective bargaining is prohibited.  Expatriates’ legal residence in the UAE is tied to their employer (kafala system), but skilled labor usually has more flexibility in transferring their residency visa.  In 2009, the UAE Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization (MOHRE) introduced a Wages Protection System (WPS) to ensure unbanked workers were paid according to the terms of their employment agreement.  Most domestic workers remain uncovered by the WPS.  In 2019, the UAE government launched a WPS pilot program for domestic workers and announced plans to extend WPS protection to include domestic workers in the future.

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, race, and national origin.  Labor Law gives national preference in employment to Emirati citizens.  Federal Law No. 06 of 2020 stipulates equal wages for women and men in the private sector.  The decree came into force in September 2020.

The DIFC Employment Law No. 2 of 2019, which took effect in August 2019, addressed key issues such as paternity leave, sick pay, and end-of-service settlements.  ADGM also issued new employment regulations with effect in January 2020, which allowed employers and employees more flexibility in negotiating notice periods and introduced protective provisions for employees age 15-18.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment  

There are four major federal laws affecting investment in the UAE:  the Federal Commercial Companies Law, the Trade Agencies Law, the Federal Industry Law, and the Government Tenders Law.

Federal Commercial Companies Law:  As noted above, Federal Decree-Law Number 26 annulled the default requirement for commercial companies to be majority-owned by Emirati citizens, have a majority-Emirati board, or maintain an Emirati agent effectively allowing majority or full foreign ownership of onshore companies in most sectors.

Trade Agencies Law:  The Trade Agencies Law currently requires that foreign firms without a local UAE subsidiary to distribute their products in the UAE through trade agents who are either UAE nationals or through companies majority-owned by UAE nationals.  Federal Law No. 11 of 2020 amended the Trade Agencies Law, removing the requirement that UAE companies be fully owned by Emirati citizens to act as commercial agents.  However, those companies still need to be majority-owned by Emirati citizens. The Ministry of Economy handles registration of trade agents.  A foreign principal can appoint one agent for the entire UAE, or for a particular emirate or group of emirates.  It is difficult and expensive to sever a commercial agency agreement.  Federal Law No. 5 of 1985 (Civil Code) governs unregistered distribution agreements.

Federal Law No. 11 of 2020 will also allow family-owned companies to convert to public joint stock companies; to open shareholding to foreign investors; and to establish rules of governance and protection against default.  The changes also encourage UAE nationals to engage in business activities and invest in public companies and their commercial agents.  The changes offer protections for small shareholders and owners of SMEs acting as agents, granting them statutory protection in cases of termination or non-renewal of agreements without “material reasons.”

In August 2020, the Dubai ruler issued Law No. 9 (2020) regulating family-owned businesses in Dubai.  The Law enables family members with a common interest to jointly own moveable or immoveable property (other than shares in public joint-stock companies) on the tailored terms of a Family Property Contract that ensures the continuity, development, and smooth transition of family property from one generation to another.

Federal Industry Law:  Federal Law No. 1 (1979) regulates industrial projects in the UAE. Under this law, an industry advisory committee shall be established to examine issues pertaining to most industrial projects.  The law excludes projects which meet specific requirements, including projects related to petroleum exploration and mining industry; projects with fixed capital, not exceeding $68,064 or that do not have more than ten people, or that use a motor power of no more than five horses; concession projects; and projects implemented by the federal government.

Other Relevant Legislation:  According to the Central Bank Law, a bank incorporated in the United Arab Emirates must be 60 percent owned by UAE nationals.  The limit on foreign ownership of local banks is subject to approval by regulators on a case-by-case basis.  Some major banks have reached the maximum foreign ownership of 40 percent in recent years.  Foreign banks are licensed in the UAE as branches of foreign banks, with a maximum of eight local branches allowed per bank.

The Federal Industry Law stipulates industrial projects must have 51 percent UAE national ownership.  The law also requires that projects either be managed by a UAE national or have a board of directors with a majority of UAE nationals.  Exemptions from the law are provided for projects related to the extraction and refining of oil and natural gas and select hydrocarbon projects governed by special laws or agreements.

To register with the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange, go to: https://www.adx.ae/English/Pages/Members/BecomeAMember/default.aspx

To obtain an investor number for trading on Dubai Exchanges, go to:  http://www.nasdaqdubai.com/assets/docs/NIN-Form.pdf

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws  

The Ministry of Economy’s Competition Regulation Committee reviews transactions for competition-related concerns.

Expropriation and Compensation  

Mission UAE is not aware of foreign investors subjected to any expropriation in the UAE in the recent past.  There are no federal rules governing compensation if expropriations were to occur.   Individual emirates would likely treat expropriations differently.  In practice, authorities would be unlikely to expropriate unless there were a compelling development or public interest need to do so.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention  

The UAE is a contracting state to the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement  

Mission UAE is aware of several substantial investment and commercial disputes over the past few years involving U.S. or other foreign investors and government and/or local businesses.  There have also been multiple contractor/payment disputes with the government as well as with local businesses.  Onshore dispute resolution can be difficult and uncertain, and payment following settlements is often slow.  Disputes are generally resolved by direct negotiation and settlement between the parties themselves, arbitration, or recourse within the legal system.  Firms avoid escalating payment disputes through civil or arbitral courts, particularly disputes involving politically connected local parties to preserve access to UAE markets.  Legal or dispute-resolution mechanisms that can take months or years to reach resolution, leading some firms to exit the UAE market instead of pursuing claims.  Arbitration may commence by petition to the UAE federal courts based on mutual consent (a written arbitration agreement), independently (by nomination of arbitrators), or through referral to an appointing authority without recourse to judicial proceedings.  Mechanisms for enforcing ownership of property through either offshore or domestic courts are generally effective.  There have been no confirmed reports of government interference in the court system affecting foreign investors.  Domestic courts are generally perceived as favoring Emirati nationals over foreigners.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts  

The UAE government acceded to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards in November 2006.  An arbitration award issued in the UAE is now enforceable in all 138 member states, and any award issued in another member state is directly enforceable in the UAE.  The Convention supersedes all incompatible legislation and rulings in the UAE.  Mission UAE is not aware of any U.S. firm attempting to use arbitration under the UN convention on the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitral awards.  Some analysts have raised concerns about delays and procedural obstacles to enforcing arbitration awards in the UAE.

In June 2018, Federal Law No. 6 (2018) on Arbitration came into force.  The Federal Law on Arbitration is based on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.  The new law is expected to bolster confidence in the UAE’s arbitration regime.  In October 2020, DIFC courts set up a new arbitration working group to accommodate the rising number of arbitration-related cases.  On December 23, 2020, ADGM enacted amendments to its arbitration regulations to establish itself as a venue for arbitration; codify international best practices; and accommodate the changing needs of various stakeholders to arbitration.  The amendments also allowed greater flexibility in the way the arbitration process can be conducted, particularly with the introduction of explicit provisions accommodating virtual hearings and electronic submissions.

Bankruptcy Regulations  

The bankruptcy law for companies, Federal Decree Law No. 9 (2016), was first applied in February 2019.  The law covers companies governed by the Commercial Companies Law, most FTZ companies, sole proprietorships, and companies conducting professional business.  It allows creditors owed $27,225 or more to file insolvency proceedings against a debtor 30 business days after written notification to the debtor.  The law decriminalized “bankruptcy by default,” ending a system in which out-of-cash businesspeople faced potential criminal liability, including fines and potential imprisonment, if they did not initiate insolvency procedures within 30 days.  In October 2020, the UAE Cabinet approved amendments to the law and added provisions regarding “Emergency Situations” that impinge on trade or investment, to enable individuals and business to overcome credit challenges during extraordinary circumstances such as pandemics, natural and environmental disasters, and wars.  Under the amendments, a debtor may request a grace period from creditors, or negotiate a debt settlement for a period up to 12 months.

The bankruptcy law for individuals, Insolvency Law No. 19 (2019) came into effect in November 2019.  It applies only to natural persons and estates of the deceased.  The law allows a debtor to seek court assistance for debt settlement or to enter into liquidation proceedings as a result of the inability to pay for an extended period of time.  Under this law, a debtor facing financial difficulties may apply to the court for assistance and guidance in the settlement of his financial commitments through one or more court-appointed experts, or through a court-supervised binding settlement plan.  If a debtor fails to pay any of his due debts for a period exceeding 50 consecutive business days, he shall apply to the court to commence proceedings for the liquidation of his assets.  The law offers only limited protection to individuals, and non-payment of debt remains a criminal offense.

DIFC enacted a New Insolvency Law on May 30, 2019.  The law, which applies only to DIFC companies, introduces methods to deal with insolvency situations, including a new debtor in possession regime, appointment of an administrator in cases of mismanagement, and adoption of UNCITRAL Model Law, consistent with globally recognized best practices.  In July 2020, ADGM also announced amendments to its regulations to provide greater clarity on the prescribed form and content in procedural matters and to better align with the ADGM Courts platform.

In June 2020, the UAE’s federal export credit Company, Etihad Credit Insurance (ECI) reaffirmed its commitment to support companies operating in the UAE to recover from COVID implications.  ECI has recently helped a UAE manufacturer recover payments from a U.S. firm that filed for bankruptcy.

The Federal Government’s Al Etihad Credit Bureau (AECB) is the only credit rating agency that assesses the financial strength of individuals in the UAE.  It also provides risk measures for various entities.  The AECB partnered with local institutions to collect data that assist in assessing credit risk and improve capital market efficiency.  A credit rating allows investors to make better-informed lending decisions and apply appropriate risk premiums to borrowers.  A credit report from AECB can unburden borrowers from scrutiny each time they take a loan.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property  

The UAE federal government allows individual emirates to decide the mechanisms through which ownership of land may be transferred within their borders.  Abu Dhabi has generally limited land ownership to Emiratis or other GCC citizens, who may then lease the land to foreigners.  The property reverts to the owner at the conclusion of the lease.  However, in 2019, the Abu Dhabi Government issued Law No. 13 (2019) amending the rules on foreign ownership of real estate in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.  Under the law, foreign individuals and companies wholly or partially owned by foreigners are allowed to own freehold interests in land located within certain investment areas of Abu Dhabi for an unrestricted time period.  The law also extends the right for public joint stock companies to own a freehold interest in land and property anywhere in Abu Dhabi provided that at least 51 percent of the company is owned by UAE nationals.  Prior to the issuance of this law, foreign owners’ interest in land was limited to a “Musataha,” a long-term lease of up to 99 years, renewable upon the agreement of both parties.

Although Dubai has restricted ownership to UAE nationals in certain older, more established neighborhoods, traditional freeholds, also known as outright ownership, are widely available, particularly in newer developments.  Freehold owners own the land and may sell it on the open market.  The contract rights of lienholders, as well as ownership rights of freeholders, are generally respected and enforced throughout the UAE, which in some cases has employed specialized courts for this purpose.

Mortgages and liens are permitted with restrictions, and each emirate has its own system of recordkeeping.  In Dubai, for example, the system is centralized within the Dubai Land Department, and is considered extremely reliable.

In December 2020, Dubai’s ruler issued new legislation on unfinished and cancelled real estate projects in Dubai.  Law No. (19) of 2020 states that if a developer did not initiate construction on a real estate project for reasons beyond his control, or if the project was cancelled due to a decision issued by government regulators, the developer must refund the entire deposit paid by purchasers.

The World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report notes that not all privately-held land plots in the economy are formally registered in an immovable property registry.  Much of the country is unregistered desert; such land is generally owned by emirate-level governments.  Land not otherwise allocated or owned is the property of the emirate and may be disposed of at the will of its ruler who generally consults with his advisors prior to disposition.  The UAE does not have a securitization process for lending purposes.

Intellectual Property Rights 

The UAE has established a legal and regulatory framework for intellectual property rights (IPR) protection.  Moreover, in recent years IPR holders have seen marked improvement in the protection and enforcement of intellectual property.  In April 2021, the UAE was removed from the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report “Watch List.”  Recent UAE government changes include enhancing IP protections for the innovative pharma and biotech industry; lowering previously prohibitive trademark fees; increasing transparency in the outcomes of counterfeit seizures; significantly increasing notifications, seizures, and public destructions by Dubai Customs; and creating intergovernmental and quasi-governmental groups responsive to USG and U.S. industry concerns.  While concrete steps are needed to remedy problems with music licensing and IPR enforcement in FTZs, the UAE government has taken the concerns of rights holders seriously.

The 2019-2020 Global Competitiveness Report issued by the World Economic Forum ranked the UAE 19th globally on IPR protection, up from 26th in 2018-2019.  The UAE’s legal framework for IPR is generally considered compliant with international obligations.  Emirate-level authorities such as economic development authorities, police forces, and customs authorities enforce IPR-related issues, while federal authorities manage IPR policy.

Before January 2021, inventors could receive patent protection in UAE through either the UAE national patent office or the regional Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Patent Office.  On January 5, 2021, the GCC Patent Office stopped accepting new patent applications as the regional patent system undergoes significant reforms.  While GCC patent applications filed before January 5th will continue to be processed, inventors will need to rely on the national UAE patent office to seek patent rights until the new regional GCC system is established.

Resources for Intellectual Property Rights Holders:

Peter Mehravari

Patent Attorney

Intellectual Property Attaché for the Middle East & North Africa

U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi | U.S. Department of Commerce U.S. Patent & Trademark Office

Tel: +965 2259 1455 Peter.Mehravari@trade.gov

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/

9. Corruption 

The UAE has strict laws, regulations, and enforcement against corruption and has pursued several high-profile cases.  For example, the UAE federal penal code and the federal human resources law criminalize embezzlement and the acceptance of bribes by public and private sector workers.  The Dubai financial fraud law criminalizes receipt of illicit monies or public funds.  There is no evidence that corruption of public officials is a systemic problem.  The State Audit Institution and the Abu Dhabi Accountability Authority investigate corruption in the government.  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 third-party organizations 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

14. Contact for More Information

Paul Prokop
Economic Officer
First Street, Umm Hurair -1
Dubai UAE
+971 (0)4 309 4918
prokoppg@state.gov

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