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UAE to become an increasingly attractive base for shipping companies

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A series of new regulations and a more business-friendly environment in the UAE is likely to provide a pull for shipping companies looking to set up or expand within the region.

This was one of the main conclusions of panellists at a Seatrade Maritime Middle East session addressing ‘Better compliance – less cost’ earlier this week. The session was moderated by Ali Shebab, DNV’s Global Director of Special Projects and Services with focus on the Middle East.

Setting the scene, Laura Voda, a lawyer at Fichte & Co, revealed that within the last two months, a new Commercial Companies Law, an amended Commercial Code, new data legislation, and the New Labour Law have been prepared and will all become effective early in 2022.

“We welcome these developments,” she said, adding that the changes will contribute to making the UAE an incentivised business environment likely to generate an influx of business from all over the world.

The new legislation will make the country’s existing employment law much more flexible, she said, enabling part-time working, freelancing, tele-commuting, and job-sharing. She declared that the firm was looking forward to providing insight and guidelines on dealing with the changes, streamlining businesses, and building sustainable and profitable shipping entities within the country.

Martin Helweg, CEO of P&O Maritime Logistics echoed her views. Although P&O is a global company, it would still benefit significantly from the recent changes. In contrast with some countries that are closing up and making the business environment less friendly, he noted that the UAE is doing quite the opposite.

Helweg said that the new framework offers a “unique opportunity to build a strong maritime cluster in the UAE – much stronger than today. Opening up is making the UAE a more attractive place to do business and will mean that more companies will be established here,” he predicted. Meanwhile, a strong maritime cluster is a pre-requisite for the “collaboration and co-creation” that shipping needs today, he said, as it faces so many challenges on so many fronts.

Nitin Mehta, Chief Finance & Strategy Officer of GMS Inc, outlined some of the plus-points for his business, which is focused on ship recycling and shipowning. The imminent legislative changes are welcome, he said, highlighting the UAE’s favourable taxation regime and the ability to work with special purpose vehicles which is not possible in some other jurisdictions. Also, he said, to build a successful business for the future, it was essential to have data protection laws in place today, another imminent development.

Representing local business, Seamaster director, Rammi Al Heddi, supported the positive points made by the other participants, but he said that he would be “keeping an eye on employment changes for seafarers”. With four ships and more under construction, the company currently employs about 30 seafarers who are treated as UAE residents. This causes “quite a few issues”, he said, which had been highlighted by the pandemic.

“There are a few areas that still need to be looked at. However, we are all moving in the right direction,” he said.

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