From time to time, a trial balloon is floated in one GCC jurisdiction or another concerning the imposition of a new tax, whether it be an individual income tax, corporate tax or a value added tax. The most recent of these is now floating over Dubai, which is still grappling with the residual effects of the 2008 crash while maintaining high levels of infrastructure spending.
A prominent Emirati businessman based in Dubai publicly raised the idea of a corporate income tax in Dubai and voiced his general support for such an idea. This is easily to understand, given the depletion of Dubai's oil reserves, the reversal of 2008 and resulting cash crunch, and the Emirate's continued high level of spending. However, it would be somewhat akin to Killing the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.
Dubai rose up from the desert, transforming itself from a small trading post adjacent to Sharjah into the "City of Dreams", on the basis of its business-friendly laws, easy access to the oil-rich Gulf region, an unburdensome regulatory environment, quick access to financing and investment capital, and clever marketing revolving around the fact that the Emirate is Tax-Free.
While there are numerous government fees, paid annually, along with payments to sponsors, exceedingly high rental costs and other expenses one could say amount to a sort of taxation, companies and individual entrepreneurs from all over the world continue to flock to Dubai, drawn to the City of Dreams by the prospect of Tax-Free wealth. Imposition of a corporate income tax could threaten this influx and inspire existing businesses to relocate elsewhere in the Gulf. Even if such a tax were quickly repealled, reestablishing Dubai's image, carefully crafted and astutely marketed for many years, might be next to impossible. And, isn't the real "Dream" not quick wealth, but having a broad-based economy not entirely dependent upon oil in the very heart of the Gulf region?
If Dubai is the City of Dreams, the "Green Capital" of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, has been the Emirate of Reality. With much of the UAE's energy resources, over half the country's population and land mass (much of it still undeveloped), and a very similar body of business law and regulations, and a robust banking industry, Abu Dhabi is also Tax-Free. Abu Dhabi may not be known for a miraculous boom of the sort that made Dubai famous, but it has enjoyed steady, broad growth that has withstood the 2008 crash.
Today, and not accidentally, Abu Dhabi is a leading target for foreign direct investment. A corporate income tax in Dubai would not only enhance the relative attractiveness of Abu Dhabi to newcomers to the region, it might also encourage some of Dubai's existing businesses to take a two-hour drive and check out why the Emirate of Abu Dhabi is "green" in more ways than one.