e-book Managing Multinationals in the Middle East: Accounting and Tax Issues

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These can include strategic and operational risks asset expropriation and regulatory and tax impositions ; financial risks currency exchange fluctuations, contract repudiation and non-payment of monies owed ; cultural risks failure to negotiate in the ways foreign business partners expect to negotiate ; and reputational risks revelations that the company paid a bribe, provided a kickback or followed questionable labor practices.

Although the primary risks have been and will remain geopolitical and macroeconomic, there are countless variables to doing business in MENA that can change quickly and influence potential risk. In almost all ways, despite governments and regulators trying to do the right things, this is and will remain an evolving landscape.

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To outsiders, MENA is a region rife with civil and international conflicts, social unrest and the growing presence of extremists. Such pernicious dangers increase the risk of asset expropriation, currency manipulation and contract repudiation, and threats to personnel security. Or it could result in a call to revise the contract midway through.

Transfer pricing a risk management issue for multinationals in the Middle East

Economic problems can also affect the timing of anticipated payments for products or services already rendered. But this will not always be effective.

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  • Will I be paid or not? Fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates can impact payments, increasing the risk of capital loss.

    Introduction to VAT in the GCC

    Currency devaluation will make exports cheaper and imports more expensive, while currency appreciation will raise the price of exports at the expense of import costs. In addition, foreign companies that sell their products or services on credit could face a loss if the exchange rate changes between invoicing and payment. Other reports support this perception. Indeed, more than one-fifth of survey respondents said it was not possible to conduct business competitively in the Middle East without committing fraud.

    With respect to those that appear to be complying, everyone understands this is disingenuous. Even with several governments in the region stepping up their enforcement of anti-bribery laws, the situation remains murky.


    Nevertheless, foreign entities caught engaging in such crimes can suffer reputational damage affecting their business across the globe. Companies also need to be aware of the social and cultural dynamics of doing business in the Middle East and endeavor to build authentic personal relationships with their business partners. Consequently, it can take quite a bit of time for Middle Easterners to develop trust in the other party.

    This process contributes to the protracted amount of time it generally takes to conduct negotiations and make business decisions.

    Press release

    It is critical to the long-term relationship to respect these cultural differences, however, and have patience throughout the negotiations. As more multinational corporations and regional companies engage in business ventures in the MENA region, risk management professionals will play increasingly important strategic roles. In some cases, risk managers will be called upon to help determine the viability of doing business in the region based on in-depth analysis of risk and reward. Because of the breadth of exposures in MENA, one best practice is to partner with a local company that understands the evolving political, cultural and economic dynamics—in fact, in some countries, partnering with a local company is mandatory.

    In addition, given the concerns about corruption, it is important to vet the local partner for evidence of past criminal behavior. Experts recommend having any prospective partners submit to a background screening and provide their books of business for assessment.

    The Risks and Opportunities of Doing Business in the Middle East

    Ongoing monitoring of risks is absolutely essential as the political and economic situation in MENA can change quickly. It is often necessary to have people on the ground to provide intelligence on the status of the evolving political climate, which the local partner can provide. Information on brewing political conflicts that may have an adverse market impact in the future can also be obtained from research and consulting firms that specialize in the region.

    Stephen Kay, executive vice president for political risk insurance at Marsh, agreed such reports are useful in making educated decisions, but urged caution.

    Risk Management – The Risks and Opportunities of Doing Business in the Middle East

    Some threats to business caused by political factors can be insured. Political risk insurance is available from commercial insurance companies and governments, such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation in the United States, to absorb business-related losses due to war, civil strife, terrorism, government asset expropriation or confiscation, government contract repudiation, restrictions on the conversion and transfer of local currency revenues, and other risks.

    Political risk insurance is not a panacea, however. In order to address contract repudiation risks, many recommend structuring company payments to correspond to different phases of the business venture rather than providing lump sums in advance.