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Vision 2030 and the RHQ Program: Navigating New Opportunities and Exemptions for Multinational Corporations in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's ambitious Vision 2030 continues to unfold, with the Regional Headquarters (RHQ) Program playing a pivotal role in reshaping the Kingdom's business environment. The introduction of a 30-year tax exemption for multinational companies establishing regional headquarters in Riyadh marks a significant step in the Kingdom's commitment to becoming a central business hub.

Insights from the Head of the RHQ Program
Recent discussions with the head of the RHQ program at the Ministry of Investment have shed light on the concerns of multinational corporations (MNCs) as the 2024 deadline looms, which will prevent them from engaging with government agencies without a Saudi RHQ.

The current uncertainty due to the absence of specific regulations related to the "Controls of Contracting between Government Agencies and Companies that Do Not Have a Regional Headquarters in the Kingdom and Related Parties" has been a significant concern. However, our dialogue has revealed potential exemptions for MNCs.

Exemption Pathways for MNCs
MNCs without legal establishments in the MENA region, or those whose decision-making occurs outside MENA, can request exemptions from the Ministry of Investment. This involves explaining their corporate structure to demonstrate that existing MENA-based entities do not function as RHQs.

This means that companies can submit exemption letters to the Ministry, anticipating a response within approximately one and a half months. During this period, they should prepare to present all necessary supporting documents to strengthen their case for exemption from establishing an RHQ in Saudi Arabia.

Addressing Specific RHQ Restrictions
The Ministry of Investment has set forth restrictions for the RHQ, including skill requirements for employees and a minimum number of full-time employees, including senior executives, within a year of receiving the license. Companies facing challenges in meeting these requirements have the option to file an exemption request with the Ministry.

Strategic Implications
For companies with a legal presence in the MENA region dedicated to operations within a specific country, establishing a subsidiary in Saudi Arabia remains a viable option for participating in government tenders. This approach allows companies to navigate the new regulatory landscape while seizing opportunities in the Saudi market.

The Way Forward
The recent updates from the Ministry of Investment, along with the potential for exemptions, present a complex yet navigable path for MNCs. Understanding the new framework and engaging proactively with the Ministry is key to aligning with the Kingdom's strategic vision and securing a market position.

As Saudi Arabia continues to evolve its business ecosystem to align with global best practices, the opportunity for MNCs to thrive under Vision 2030 has never been more evident.

This article was written by corporate lawyer Jean Abboud and focuses on Vision 2023 and the RHQ Program.

BSA is a regional Law Firm in the Middle East with offices in the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. As a full-service law firm our practice areas include litigation, arbitration and corporate services, including M&A, banking & finance, Intellectual Property, TMT, Fintech, employment and insurance.

Published on 6 December, 2023.

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