More than 170 countries throughout the world have implemented a VAT system, and some of the most recent adopters are the Gulf countries. In a bid to diversify economic resources, the Gulf countries have spent the past decade investigating other ways to finance its public services.
As a result, in 2016 the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), consisting of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman, signed the Common VAT Agreement to introduce a VAT system at a rate of 5%.
The first step: VAT adoption across the GCC
Following the VAT agreement, Saudi Arabia and UAE implemented VAT in 2018. Bahrain followed with a VAT regime in 2019. Most recently Oman enforced a 5% VAT from April 2021, and looking ahead both Qatar and Kuwait are expected to enact VAT laws within the next year.
The second step: VAT digitization
After the implementation of VAT and the increase of VAT rate from 5% to 15%, Saudi Arabia has taken the next step to digitize the control mechanisms for VAT compliance.
The E-invoicing Regulation enacted in December 2020 sets out an obligation for all resident taxable persons to generate and store invoices electronically. This requirement will be enforced from 4 December 2021.
Saudi Arabia has made considerable progress since it first introduced VAT in 2018. The Saudi E-invoicing Regulation is expected to not only encourage digitization and automation for businesses, but also to achieve efficiency in VAT controls and better macro-economic data for its tax authority, a development which will likely be replicated by other GCC countries soon.
Considering the efforts involved in the digitization of government processes and the VAT implementation timeline, the next candidate for similar e-invoicing adoption would likely be the UAE. While there are currently no plans for a mandatory framework, the UAE has announced bold plans for general digitization. According to the UAE government website, “In 2021, Dubai Smart government will go completely paper-free, eliminating more than 1 billion pieces of paper used for government transactions every year, saving time, resources and the environment.”
The spread of VAT digitization is typically the second reform following VAT adoption. As Bahrain and Oman also have VAT systems in place, introduction of mandatory e-invoicing in the next a few years in these countries would not come as a surprise. The adoption of e-invoicing in Qatar and Kuwait would depend on the success of VAT implementation, therefore it is not easy to estimate when their VAT digitization journey will begin but there is no doubt that it will happen at some stage.
The next step for VAT adoption across the GCC
After the adoption of e-invoicing, the Gulf countries may continue to digitize other VAT processes, including VAT returns. Pre-population of VAT returns using the data collected through e-invoicing systems is another trend that the countries are moving towards.
Regardless of the shape and form of digitization, there will be many moving parts in terms of VAT and its execution. Businesses operating in the region should be prepared to invest in their VAT compliance processes to avoid unnecessary fines and reputational risk for non-compliance.
To find out more about what we believe the future holds, download VAT Trends: Toward Continuous Transaction Controls. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter to keep up-to-date with regulatory news and updates.