UAE Corporate Tax: Significant Relief Granted To Commodity Traders Operating in Free Zones

Commodity enterprises in free zones will find considerable satisfaction in the latest corporate tax revisions. The focus has shifted back to the taxation framework in UAE-free zones. A recent cabinet decision, accompanied by a corresponding ministerial decision that revokes previous rulings, has been retroactively implemented from June 1, 2023. These decisions bring forth new concepts and provide clarity on relevant issues. As is typical in taxation matters, some intriguing discussion points have surfaced.

UAE Corporate Tax traders in free zones

Qualifying Commodities Trading

The trading of Qualifying Commodities has brought significant relief to commodity traders based in free zones not classified as ‘designated zones.’ Income generated from the trading of ‘qualifying commodities’ with individuals or entities outside the free zone, whether domestic or international, is now eligible for a 0 percent tax rate.

Qualifying commodities refer to metals, minerals, energy, and agricultural commodities traded in their raw form on a recognized commodities exchange market, either within the UAE or internationally. This applies to the physical trading of these commodities and associated derivative trading used for hedging against risks inherent in such activities.

Qualifying Intellectual Property

Qualifying intellectual property, which encompasses income from the ownership or exploitation of all intellectual property assets, was initially explicitly excluded from the 0 percent tax rate. However, with the revised decisions, a specific portion of the income derived from the ownership of ‘Qualifying Intellectual Property’ is now eligible for the 0 percent rate.

Qualifying IP includes patents and copyrighted software, along with any other rights that are functionally equivalent to a patent (e.g., utility models, IPR for plants and genetic material, orphan drug designations, and extensions of patent protections). It’s important to note that intellectual property rights related to marketing, such as trademarks, are not eligible for this rate.

Clarity on Sufficient Substance

Ensuring ‘adequate substance’ is a crucial compliance requirement for claiming the 0 percent tax rate. This entails engaging in core income-generating activities (CIGA), maintaining sufficient assets, having a specific number of employees, and incurring operational expenses.

Core income-generating activities primarily involve functions that contribute to the business’s value and are not predominantly support activities. It necessitates having an appropriate number of qualified full-time employees. The required substance should be upheld in the respective free zone or designated zone where the qualifying activity is mandated. Even third parties to whom core income-generating activities may be outsourced must meet this location condition.

Points for Consideration:

Detailed clarification has been provided on income from headquarter services to related parties, which is now eligible for a 0 percent tax rate. ‘Headquarter services’ encompass the administration, oversight, and management of business activities for related parties. This includes providing senior and general management, captive insurance services, administrative services, procurement services, business planning and development, risk management, coordination of group activities, and incurring expenditures on behalf of related parties, along with offering other support services.

Caution is advised in handling ‘headquarter services.’ Beyond anti-abuse rules, a lingering question pertains to whether a mainland company, typically ineligible for the 0 percent rate and/or engaged in operating mainland retail stores, could potentially restructure its management activities, including owners’ salaries, by establishing a separate free zone company.

The detailed clarification of the distribution of goods or materials within or from a designated zone has effectively addressed concerns raised by taxpayers. Numerous intriguing scenarios, such as the distribution of non-resale equipment, verification of overseas customers as resellers, trading in non-qualifying commodities, and sales involving third-port shipments, still require careful evaluation.

With enhanced clarity on free zone tax incentives, it is imperative for business owners to pose the appropriate questions to optimize the tax impact and meet compliance requirements.

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