TBY talks to Sami Touma, Managing Partner of Eptalex – MEG LEGAL SERVICES, on the evolution of the firm, things companies setting up in Dubai should keep in mind, and the outlook for the year ahead.

Sami Touma
Sami Touma’s practice areas include business law, public law, communication law, media law, advertising and intellectual property law, and arbitration. He is the Managing Partner of Eptalex – MEG LEGAL SERVICES. He has a master’s degree in private and public law from Saint-Joseph University in Beirut and the University of Lyon.

Established in 2009, Eptalex – MEG LEGAL SERVICES has extensive experience and a deep understanding of the legal and business environment in Dubai and the Middle East. How would you describe the evolution of the firm over these years?

MEG LEGAL SERVICES is built on the complementarities of its team members in awareness and knowledge, and on a permanent quest for excellence. It has quickly become well known for its strong litigation and arbitration practice. Over the years MEG LEGAL SERVICES has been keen to strengthen its teams of lawyers, to widen its areas of practice, and to expand its international presence. Finally, in 2015, MEG LEGAL SERVICES, together with other law firms from different countries, founded the international partnership Eptalex, and thus became part of a network with offices in Beirut (Lebanon), Dubai and Abu Dhabi (UAE), Milan (Italy), and Johannesburg and Cape Town (South Africa). With a global perspective Eptalex is today affiliated with the Global Business Lawyers (GBL) Alliance, which gathers reputable, like-minded law firms in more than 30 countries with similar practice areas and services. Within GBL Alliance, Eptalex - MEG LEGAL SERVICES is the exclusive representative for Dubai. Moreover, Eptalex - MEG LEGAL SERVICES and Eptalex – MOHAMED ALZAABI ADVOCATES AND LEGAL CONSULTANTS (Abu Dhabi), are full active members of the Association of European Lawyers' Network and the exclusive Justinian Lawyers offices in the UAE. Today, Eptalex – MEG LEGAL SERVICES, due to its partners' expertise that spans over 45 years of excellence in providing legal services to regional and international business communities, repre-sents clients in the full range of business transactions, complex legal and factual disputes, and difficult regulatory and business issues.

What are the main factors that companies seeking to do business in Dubai should take into consideration?

There are many factors that companies seeking to do business in Dubai should take into consideration. The main four are, first, the place of conducting business: in general, companies can do business in mainland Dubai or in one the many free zones established in the Emirate. A company licensed to do business in a free zone cannot directly do business in mainland Dubai. Usually, companies aiming to execute contracts with government entities must be licensed to do business in mainland Dubai. Second, the local ownership requirement: in order to conduct business in mainland Dubai, companies can register a local company or a branch of a foreign company with the Department of Economic Development (DED). UAE nationals must hold at least 51% in local companies while a branch of a foreign company only requires a local service agent. Free zone entities can be fully owned by foreigners. Thus, a company seeking to conduct business in mainland Dubai must take into consideration the requirement of a 51% local ownership in case of registration of a local company, or the fiscal and financial consequences (on the mother company) in case of registration of a branch of a foreign company. Third, the contemplated activities: a company must choose its scope of activities from a list adopted by the relevant authority (the DED or the relevant free zone authority). Activities are classified in groups, and a company may choose a limited number of activities within the same group. Moreover, many activities require pre-approvals from other regulatory authorities. Finally, some activities may be permitted in some free zones, and restricted in others (like in the media sector). Fourth the regulatory framework: in Dubai, existing regulations are continuously changing, new regulations are issued, and the number of regulated sectors is continuously increasing. Companies must make sure to always comply with the relevant applicable regulations.

What is your outlook for the year ahead?

According to the latest updates from the IMF, the UAE's economic growth will accelerate to 4.4 % in 2018, driven by a rebound in investment, manufacturing, and trade. Aiming to be a smart city, Dubai will see e-commerce connectivity as an expanding sector, which will be driven by the rapid proliferation of connected devices and services. It will have a direct impact on creating new business and job opportunities in the areas of health care, IT, logistics, media, and entertainment, as well as banking and financial services. With regard to the latter, it should be noted that in April 2017 the UAE formally committed to the Common Reporting Standard elaborated within the OECD. The implementation of the international standards will raise many questions from all the stakeholders that will be affected by it, such as financial institutions, companies, and individuals. Eptalex – MEG LEGAL SERVICES already addresses its clients' concerns, being aware of the complexity of the issues and the impact of international standards on international businesses.