United Arab Emirates

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Import regulations and customs duties  - Distribution - Transportation of goods - Standards - Patents and brands

Import regulations and customs duties

There is a ban on irradiated food imports, and alcohol and pork imports undergo drastic quotas. It is to be known that every basic product of beef and fowl when imported must be accompanied by a certificate of hygiene given by the country of origin.
The United Arab Emirates are a part of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). In 1981, the GCC created an agreement (Unified Economic Agreement) on which any agricultural, animal, industrial products or any natural resources of the member states were exempt from customs duties or any other charge when they trade together. The members of this council are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain , Qatar and Oman. The GCC is currently conducting business negotiations with the European Union, Japan and USA in order to sign future agreements on free trade.


Customs duties
There is a common customs duty for the United Arab Emirates. The customs duties account for 4% of the CIF value (cost, insurance freight) of the goods or services. Further, the customs tariff includes a list of products or goods, exempt from customs duty. There is no need to pay these customs duties on food products entering Jebel Ali free zone and Al Awir terminal.

Besides, goods entering the Duty Free Storage Area (DFSA) at Rashid port are not taxed. These duties can be settled according to different forms. Once these are paid, the duties cannot be reimbursed (except if there is an error from UAE Authorities). But in all cases, the duties are levied by the authorities when an import takes place. There are also customs duties the rates of which range between 25 and 50% for alcohol and tobacco.




Many foreign companies directly export to the UAE and sell their products to the final consumer. Others somehow find the way to use informal, non-exclusive networks whereas others do the same through agents / distributors.
There are many importers of food products majority of whom are also wholesalers, distributors or retailers. Four to five companies dominate the sale of food products. Dubai is the centre of transit trade for a large variety of food products. It is thought that 60% of all food imports into the UAE are re-exported towards the Gulf countries : Iran, India and recently more and more towards the Soviet Union.
The law of this land does not make any distinction between an agent, a distributor and when a commercial agent is needed, it is possible to use the services of both of them. Contracts terms and conditions vary considerably. For instance one may criticise the very fact of granting territorial exclusivity : The best way is to hire an agent in each Emirate or to select an agent who subcontracts other agents in each Emirate.

Franchises / distributorships
There is a legal vacuum on franchises in the Emirates. All the same, the franchises are functioning : fast food, restaurants, clubs, hiring of vehicles, beauty products... The residents of United Arab Emirates or 100% national subsidiaries are the only ones to enjoy the franchises
Direct sale
As for direct sale, it is advised to have recourse to this network only for small volumes exported in this country and for punctual operations.


Transportation of goods

By road
Road transport extends over nearly 3,254 km and the fleet of vehicles consist of 345,000 vehicles.

By sea
The principal ports are Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Das Island, Khawr Fakkan, Mina Jabal Ali. There are in all 15 ports and the transit trade of goods is very large (3 billion containers). The port of Mina Jabel Ali is one of the biggest artificial ports in the world.

By air
There are only 6 airports.


In real terms the United Arab Emirates do not have any authority in the field of Standardisation. However, the Emirates and national governments are currently studying the applications for standardisation. Besides, this is what they do in the field of BTP. The government agencies and private companies stipulate that the standards must be studied on a case by case basis. It is only in 1993 that the first company in this country received an ISO 9000 certification.
The food products under labels must carry a trade name and a trade mark, dates of production and expiry date of consumption as well as country of origin, name of manufacturer, net weight and composition of the product. These indications can figure in Arabic / English. English is also tolerated.

Patents and brands

In 1992, the Emirates voted three laws for the protection of intellectual Property : one law regarding the copyright of authors, another law regarding trade marks and the third law pertaining to patents.
The UAE have been members of the WIPO (World Organisation of Intellectual Property) since 1975. The UAE are members of the WTO (World Trade Organisation). They are looking forward to the creation of a legal framework in conformity with the requirements of TRIPS Agreement (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights) within three years from now. They have not signed the Berne Convention (concerning the copyright of authors) and the Madrid Convention (concerning trade- marks). They are signatories to the Paris Convention ( patents and industrial drawings and designs). If the federal laws respect almost all the clauses of these conventions, in practice a certain number of risks still exists.

Texts currently applying to patents/brands

  Text Date entered into law Period of validity Comment
Patent Gulf Cooperation of the Arab States : 20 years :
Design Design Protection Act 1996 5 years Renewable period up to 25 years


Last modified in 2006 - ongoing update
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