In his keynote address to the Arab British Chamber of Commerce’s ‘GCC-British Economic Forum: The Private Sector: Challenges and Opportunities’, held in London, HE Dr Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani, secretary general, Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), said that investments in the GCC countries are ‘safe’.
He acknowledged that security is a key concern for those considering investing in the Middle East due to the violence within the region. But the GCC states, he said, while certainly facing challenges posed by the violence in surrounding countries, represented a safe option due to their “stability and capacity for quick recovery”.
Turning to the eventual dwindling of natural resources, he said it was important to have a strong focus on “life after oil and gas”. He said this called for a ‘mind set change’ and a proactive approach which involved the development of a wide range of skills and the building of a ‘spirit of leadership’ that would enable the GCC countries to compete internationally.
Looking at foreign investors, he said “business would be won by those who are first there and who have the imagination and gift for bilateral thinking.”
He added that the British are regarded as friends and that the GCC countries “prefer to do business with those we trust and whose ways we understand”.
He called for a harmonization of standards in tax and visas and all areas that can promote mutual trade. Regulations, he emphasized, “should act to facilitate trade, not to act as a disincentive”.
The Duke of York, in his address, said the key to good trading relations is ‘trust’. He emphasized the importance of increasing the time and effort spent on building and maintaining relationships. He said investment in young people, equipping future generations with skills, is fundamental to the prosperity of the UK and the GCC countries. The UK, he said, has a lot of valuable expertise to share in education and healthcare and that this challenge should be taken up with more vigor.
Baroness Symons, chairman, Arab British Chamber of Commerce, speaking to Gulf Times, said the Forum’s focus was on the main economic relationships between the UK and the GCC countries, notably energy and infrastructure projects in both the Gulf and the UK. She also highlighted the importance of the session on tax regulations pointing out that this is an important issue between the UK and the Gulf States where more clarity would benefit all. “Tax regulations take a lot of getting used to and, frankly, we don’t always explain it very well,” she observed.
Dr Afnan al-Shuaiby, secretary general and chief executive, Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, raised concerns during the Q & A session about the non-dom tax regulations. Non-doms must pay £30,000 a year if they have been resident for seven of the last nine years. Charges are increasing to £60,000 from £50,000 for those resident for 12 of the last 14 years, while the new charge of £90,000 applies to those who have lived in the UK for 17 of the last 20 years. The government will also consult on making the election to pay the remittance basis charge apply for a minimum of three years, so that non-doms are less able to arrange their tax affairs to only pay the charges occasionally.
For some who might exceed the three month time limit attached to non-dom status the tax implications are seen as particularly harsh. Individuals who have left the UK will continue to be regarded as UK-resident if their visits to the UK average 91 days or more a tax year, taken over a maximum of up to four tax years.
Dr al-Shuaiby pointed out that non-doms brought a great deal of money into the UK and that, especially for retired persons and those whose stay in the UK was related to medical treatments, the tax was regarded as particularly punitive and overall made the UK a less attractive location.