100% Foreign Ownership Permitted in the UAE

June 1, 2021

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The UAE Commercial Companies Law (the “CCL”) has been amended to permit 100% foreign ownership of companies incorporated in the UAE under the CCL, commonly known as “onshore” companies (“Onshore Companies”). The UAE Ministry of Economy announced that the foreign ownership amendment would be effective on 1 June 2021. We previously discussed the amendment in our earlier Client Alert.

The requirement that a minimum of 51% of the shares in an Onshore Company be held by one or more UAE nationals, being natural or legal persons, has been removed from Article 10 of the CCL. Foreign ownership restrictions are a key concern for foreign investors, including private equity and venture capital funds, and cause additional complexity and barriers  to investments in Onshore Companies. Foreign investors may now own and control Onshore Companies without the need to employ nominee or similar structures, thus avoiding cumbersome arrangements, additional costs and legal uncertainty. Furthermore, single-shareholder entities, which previously had to be wholly-owned by UAE national(s), are now eligible to be 100% owned by foreign investors.

The Department of Economic Development (“DED”) of each Emirate will specify business activities open to 100% foreign ownership. The Abu Dhabi DED has issued a list of license activities which may be conducted by a foreign-owned Onshore Company encompassing more than 1,100 activities and covering a range of sectors. While “trading” does not appear on the current list, the Abu Dhabi DED may expand the list of license activities in the future to include this activity. The Dubai DED has announced that its list will include more than 1,000 commercial and industrial license activities. The discretion of each Emirate’s DED in determining which activities may be conducted by a foreign owned-Onshore Company may result in different foreign ownership regimes applying to companies operating in the same sector, depending on which one of the Emirates an entity is incorporated in.

Foreign ownership limitations remain in respect of companies carrying out activities of strategic importance, as determined by the UAE Council of Ministers. Companies carrying out such activities will be subject to local ownership and board participation requirements to be determined by the UAE Council of Ministers.

We expect the amended CCL to strengthen the UAE’s standing as an international investment destination. It remains to be seen whether the UAE’s free-zones will decline in popularity with foreign investors as a result.

We would be happy to help clients consider and review their current ownership and governance arrangements to assess the impact of the amended CCL on their business and also discuss investment opportunities with clients.

Gibson Dunn’s Middle East practice focuses on regional and global multijurisdictional transactions and disputes whilst also acting on matters relating to financial and investment regulation.  Our lawyers, a number of whom have spent many years in the region, have the experience and expertise to handle the most complex and innovative deals and disputes across different sectors, disciplines and jurisdictions throughout the Middle East and Africa.

Our corporate team is a market leader in MENA mergers and acquisitions as well as private equity transactions, having been instructed on many of the region’s highest-profile buy-side and sell-side transactions for corporates, sovereigns and the most active regional private equity funds.  In addition, we have a vibrant finance practice, representing both lenders and borrowers, covering the full range of financial products including acquisition finance, structured finance, asset-based finance and Islamic finance.  We have the region’s leading fund formation practice, successfully raising capital for our clients in a difficult fundraising environment.

For further information, please contact the Gibson Dunn lawyer with whom you usually work, or the following authors in the firm’s Dubai office, with any questions, thoughts or comments arising from this update.

Hardeep Plahe (+971 (0) 4 318 4611, [email protected])
Fraser Dawson (+971 (0) 4 318 4619, [email protected])
Aly Kassam (+971 (0) 4 318 4641, [email protected])
Hanna Chalhoub (+971 (0) 4 318 4634, [email protected])
Thomas Barker (+971 (0) 4 3184623, [email protected])
Galadia Constantinou (+971 (0) 4 318 4663, [email protected])
Sarah Keryakas (+971 (0) 4 318 4626, [email protected])

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