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Businesses around the world affected by COVID-19 may face issues linked to cash flow, profitability and ultimately continuity. Several governments, like Dubai and Abu Dhabi, are being proactive in rolling out stimulus packages with the intention of optimizing costs, supporting businesses and demonstrating support.

As businesses work to respond to its impacts and uncertainties, it’s important to stay on top of the measures that governments are taking in regards to tax deadlines and reliefs, as well as the tax impacts of other business decisions such as employee relocation.

Consider cash-flow management and planning

  • Cash flows may come under pressure both during and following the outbreak period. As cash inflows could fall, enterprises will need to actively manage their cash outflows.
  • This could include, for example, 
    • Applying for tax filing and payment extensions when the enterprise runs into financial difficulties
    • Speedily processing tax refunds
    • Determining that tax deductible losses are calculated accurately
    • Managing the timing of invoicing for VAT/GST purposes.

Review contracts

  • Where there may be uncertainty around contracts as a result of this situation, it is advisable to consider obtaining legal advice and then engaging in proactive discussions with contracting parties, recognizing the importance of longer-term relationships and the challenges faced by many businesses in the current environment.
  • It is possible that this COVID-19 virus outbreak could be deemed a force majeure event in relation to certain contract obligations in some jurisdictions, particularly in China, where this would be based on precedents during the 2003 SARS outbreak. More information about contract considerations is available here.

Consider employee and related tax requirements

  • Businesses that are considering relocating employees from mainland China to work in a different jurisdiction permanently or remotely in the interim period need to be aware of potential individual and corporate tax implications of each arrangement and to consider quantifying associated cost to employees and business ahead of initiating the move.
  • When reviewing repatriation or remote working plans, businesses need to take into consideration the potential immigration and tax compliance requirements triggered by such relocations.
  • Certain businesses are also implementing alternative and flexible resourcing arrangements during this period, including unpaid or part paid leave entitlements, or compelling staff to take annual leave, or redundancy in more extreme cases. The legal and tax implications of these changes need to be carefully considered.

Leverage technology

  • To limit the risk of spread of the epidemic, the tax authorities are encouraging taxpayers to deal with tax matters remotely, such as by way of an e-tax bureau and mobile application.
  • Challenges with employees needing to work remotely have caused many businesses to consider automation tools so as to conduct business operations in an orderly manner, while protecting the health of employees.

Look out for tax relief, incentives and filing extensions

Dubai

On 12 March 2020, the Dubai Government announced an AED 1.5 billion economic stimulus package to enhance liquidity and cushion the potential impact of the current global economic situation caused by the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. The package includes 15 focused initiatives aimed at reducing the cost of doing business and simplifying business procedures, especially in the commercial, retail, external trade, tourism, and energy sectors. They will be introduced soon and shall be valid for three months, after which time their impact on the UAE economy will be reviewed. According to news reports[1], Dubai’s key initiatives include:

  1. Refund of 20 percent of the customs fee imposed on imported products sold in Dubai
  2. Refund of bank guarantees or cash required to be paid by existing custom clearance companies
  3. Cancellation of the AED 50,000 bank guarantee or cash requirement in order to undertake customs clearance activities
  4. Cancellation of bank guarantees required to be submitted before resolution of customs-related grievances
  5. A 90 percent reduction of fees imposed on submission of customs documents
  6. Freeze on the 2.5 percent market fees levied on all facilities operating in Dubai
  7. Exemption to traditional wooden commercial vessels registered in the country from mooring service fees for arrival and departure, and direct and indirect loading fees at Dubai and Hamriyah Ports
  8. Cancellation of 25 percent down payment required for requesting installment-based payment of government fees for obtaining and renewing licenses
  9. Permission to renew commercial licenses without mandatory renewal of lease contracts
  10. Reduction of municipality fees imposed on sales at hotels from 7 percent to 3.5 percent
  11. Exemption from fees charged to companies for postponement and cancellation of tourism and sports events scheduled for 2020
  12. Freeze on the fees for classification/rating of hotels
  13. Freeze on the fees charged for the sale of tickets, issuance of permits and other government fees related to entertainment and business events
  14. Reduction in water and electricity bills by 10 percent
  15. Reduction in deposits paid for water and electricity connections by 10 percent

Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi has also announced 15 initiatives focused on supporting SMEs and easing the availability of loans to local companies. These measures are a part of “Ghadan 21”, an AED 50 billion development plan announced by Abu Dhabi in 2018 aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of the emirate.  

According to news reports[2], key initiatives announced by Abu Dhabi include:

  1. Allocation of AED 3 billion to the SME credit guarantee scheme managed by the Abu Dhabi Investment Office to stimulate financing by local banks and enable SMEs to navigate the current market environment
  2. Allocation of AED 1 billion to establish a market maker fund, to enhance liquidity and sustain balance between supply and demand for stocks
  3. Establish a new committee to review lending options to support local companies
  4. Exemption to all commercial and industrial activities from Tawtheeq fees until the end of this year
  5. Suspension of real estate registration fees until the end of this year
  6. Reduction of industrial land leasing fees by 25 percent on new contracts
  7. Waiver of certain commercial and industrial penalties
  8. Suspension of bid bonds and exempting startups from performance guarantees for projects up to AED 50 million
  9. Settlement of all approved government payables and invoices within 15 working days
  10. Suspension of tourism and municipality fees for the tourism and entertainment sectors until the end of this year
  11. Rebate of up to 20 percent on rental values for restaurants, tourism and entertainment sectors
  12. Allocation of AED 5 billion in water and electricity subsidies
  13. Reduction in electricity connection fees for startups until the end of this year
  14. Exemption to commercial vehicles from annual registration fees until the end of this year
  15. Exemption to all vehicles from road toll tariffs until the end of this year

We will continue to monitor these initiatives while we await the details of their implementation over the coming days.