The UAE Exempts Books From VAT, Gives Workers Reading Time

In News by Porter Anderson

Books will remain exempt from VAT in the United Arab Emirates, even as a 5 percent VAT rate takes effect in the country in 2018.
The UAE's new VAT and reading measure was announced on the first of the two-day Sharjah International Book Fair's Professional Program, held at Sharjah's Chamber of Commerce. Image: Porter Anderson

The UAE’s new VAT and reading measure was announced on the first day of the Sharjah International Book Fair’s two-day Professional Program, held at Sharjah’s Chamber of Commerce. Image: Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

Toward ‘a National Culture of Reading’
The International Publishers Association (IPA) is hailing the United Arab Emirates’ announcement Monday (October 31) of an exemption from VAT for books.

The new measure, made official on the first of the two-day Sharjah Book Fair’s Professional Program, also permits employees in the UAE to read during working hours.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan

The UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, announced the move, which will see books remain tax-free once VAT is initiated at 5 percent in January 2018.

Speaking for the UAE, the Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi—who is a publisher, the founding patron of the Emirates Publishers Association, and a member of IPA’s executive committee—is quoted in a prepared statement, saying: “Through our involvement in the IPA we have followed the issue of VAT on books closely.

Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi

“We have seen the negative impacts that taxes on reading materials can produce on publishing markets and reading habits around the world. The Emirates Publishers Association flagged this in its government engagement work as a serious issue for the development of the publishing industry as well as for achieving the objectives of the National Reading Strategy and Law.

“The announcement that publishing materials will not be subject to VAT reduces industry uncertainty and makes a strong statement about how important developing a national culture of reading is to the United Arab Emirates.”

Jose Borghino

Jose Borghino

In a comment for the IPA, the organization’s secretary general, José Borghino, is quoted, saying, “This kind of progressive thinking is very encouraging and shows a deep understanding of the importance of reading to the health of societies and the development of knowledge economies. It will be fascinating to see the effects of this law on life in the UAE.”

Perhaps the part most intriguing, as Borghino rightly perceives, is the element of work time devoted to reading. The UAE just 40 years ago had an illiteracy rate of nearly 50 percent of the population. Today, less than 1 percent of the population is illiterate, an astonishingly fast turnaround clearly spurred by specific and aggressive leadership.

The new measure is to provide workers with time off for reading. While details of how this will work were not immediately made public, the concept is, obviously, a head-turner.


Here’s more on the business-boosting Professional Program held on the eve of the Sharjah International Book Fair’s opening.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.