There has been a growing tendency for cooperation among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries in the development of economic and financial institutions. The manifestation of the ubiquitous nature of globalisation has increased the need for embracing standardised accounting regulations in order to improve cooperation and enhance efficiency of financial institutions among countries. The research therefore attempts to investigate the benefits of adopting IFRS in GCC countries using publicly available data gathered from archival resources and empirical research on emerging economies in GCC member states that include United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman (Irvine & Lucas 2006, p.2).
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An emerging economy such as the UAE endowed with rich resources, commitment to rapid industrialization and investment will greatly benefit from IFRS as the adoption will encourage further globalisation and attract more foreign investment. It has also been reported that coercion from financial aid institutions such the World Bank and IMF and other mimetic pressure from multinational corporations might have contributed to the widespread of IFRS adoption. The proposed benefits of adopting IFRS are substantial however global capitalism nevertheless has downsides in the interpretation and regulations of the accounting standards. Finally, I will summarise the factors that have influenced the adoption of IFRS in GCC, challenges ahead and the future of GCC in terms of cultural changes and institutional infrastructure (Irvine & Lucas 2006, p.2).
History of IFRS
The current economic downturn has led more countries to give way for foreign investment. Australia for instance has recognised the benefits of adopting globally accepted accounting and auditing standards like the International Financial Reporting Standards in accounting for their financial activities. Developed countries have realised the need for IFRS adoption as a strategy to converge towards a single set of globally accepted standards since global capital markets require consistent, uniform and high quality regulatory and standard accounting regimes. In July, 2002, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) announced that Australia will formally adopt the Internal Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) for reporting financial statements for the period starting January 1, 2005 (Australian Government 2005, p.9).
International Financial Reporting Standards as described by Rodrigues & Craig (2005) to be “part of a wave of standardization that has taken place in broader, non-accounting contexts over the last 150 years” p.2. IFRS has been applied to mean the manifestation on globalisation and mobilisation of technology. There has been a growing need for international accounting standards in the emerging markets as well as developing counties, but for this case, the paper will focus on UAE Economy.
International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) has attracted a considerable number of contemporary and empirical studies particularly in the manifestation of globalization and the desire for capital to develop economies. In order to embrace the logic and realities of globalisation, emerging economies are required to comply with IFRS standards that report harmonised accounting regulations across all financial instructions and capital markets. In determining the applicability of the IFRS in emerging markets and developing countries, conflicting and inconclusive outcomes have been generated by these standards. The global economic benefits of IFRS are rarely definitive and countries trying to adopt the standard are often faced with regulatory structure and culture of western orientation challenges. The results of this research demonstrates that the UAE countries in embracing globalization and adopting IFRS, will need to develop appropriate regulatory systems that will overcome the cultural issues relating to secrecy and fraud (Irvine & Lucas 2006, p.2).
Globalisation has intensified the financial health of financial markets all over the world and it’s therefore important to encourage developing countries and emerging markets to adopt IFRS standard to maximise their wealth (Arnold &Sikka 2001, p.478). Fontes states that “transparent, comparable and consistence financial information” (2005, p.416). In addition, Jacob and Madu (2004) insist that the accounting standard will guide investors in making well informed decisions that will be “optimal investment decision” (p.375).
The Gulf Cooperation Council endowed with natural resources from oil and gas eager to embrace globalisation and attract foreign investment and now currently competing with World’s financial markets of stock exchange, it would be appropriate for them to adopt IFRS to standardise their accounting standards. There however appears to be particular issues in the adaptation of IFRS in emerging markets more specifically in the GCC countries. The rich political and social-cultures issues embedded in the Gulf regions for years are posing as challenges to the IFRS adoption. The notion of cultural imperialism has adversely affected the changing economic cultures of GCC since majority of the population is deeply rooted to its Muslim religion. For any challenges to be realised, vigorous reforms in the regulatory, economic and legal structures need to be implemented to pave way for IFRS adoption (DIFC 2006).
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Compliance varies among countries and diversity in adopting a given policy reflects differently on each country’s regulatory framework in terms of economic performance and tax systems. Therefore the strong economic and religious ties experienced in GCC Muslim culture should be considered in the IFRS adoption. It should be understood that capitalised markets requires economic reforms which includes an “open economic policy” such as the privatisation of state owned enterprises and lifting investment restrictions hence attraction of foreign investment. Its also argues that involvement of GCC in capital markets and pressure from multinational cooperation might have contributed to the reasons why GCC countries saw the need for IFRS adoption as strategy to accommodate both local and international investors (Al-Basteki 2000).
Stiglitz (2001) argues that “IFRS standards enable free trade, privatisation, deregulation, fiscal discipline and ease tax reforms in developed countries “(213. The manifestation of ubiquitous nature of globalisation has accelerated the need for IFRS adaptation in GCC countries but the inherent challenges such as the legal and regulatory structure should be carefully analysed before the adoption. Engardio & Belton (2000) argues that cultural uniqueness of emerging economies are often threatened by the dominance of western ideologies and technologies which are often termed as “cultural imperialism” but adopting countries should realise the IFRS inherent benefits such as foreign aid and investment opportunities among others. In order to keep track with the changing economic and social context of developed countries, GCC should embrace IFRS by desiring to change their culture, legal and regulatory structures.
Another downturn inherent in IFRS adoption mentioned by Tisdell (2001, p.585) is that globalisation has intensified poverty in emerging markets and the adoption of IFRS which requires structural policy adjustments will greatly affect economies. He gives an example of former Centrally Planned Economies as an illustration of a failed westernised institutional structures imposed of fragile cultures. (Arnold & Sikka 2001, p.476: Perera et al, 2003). Despite the contributions they make to the economy, its clear that globalisation and technology has changed and is changing the economy as results of how accounting standards are modified (Irvine & Lucas 2006, p.6).
There are, of course, other substantial benefits that have been proposed by the adoption of IFRS as stated by UNCTAD as “decreases cost of capital, greater mobility of capital, greater efficiency in the allocation of resources, improved and more comparable financial reporting and a decrease in the opportunities for earnings management (2005, p.5-6). Irvine & Lucas (2006) affirms that these benefits combined together with World Bank and the IMF policies in GCC emerging markets will greatly benefit the economy. Several cultural challenges in acknowledging the benefits of IFRS adoption include language challenges, regulatory and accounting professional challenges due to the countries’ traditional and legal systems (World Accounting Summit 2005). China for instance is implementing plans for adopting the IFRS by seeking to privatise its state-owned enterprise which will eventually challenge its traditional regulatory and legal and employment system. The two conflicting impacts of IFRS raise the question of whether emerging economies should adopt the IFRS accounting standards. There appears to be challenges in the face of implementation in terms of cultural practices that have been in practice for many years but the inherent benefits should be emphasised (Irvine & Lucas 2006, p.8).
Gulf Cooperation Council has recently shifted from over reliance on oil revenue and focused on commitment to globalisation and international trade such as banking and manufacturing. GCC now requires banks and listed companies to adopt IFRS in their financial reporting in order to attract foreign investment. There appears to be other issues that influenced the IFRS adoption in GCC countries such as the World Bank policy requirements, capital markets, trade and international accounting firms that require unified accounting standards. Another consideration would be the increased trade between UAE and western countries in the past years might have increased the pressure to adopt globalised reforms of financial reporting to accommodate trading partners. Therefore, the context of trading relationship has contributed greatly to the IFRS need for adoption (Irvine & Lucas 2006, p.8).
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inherent benefits that come with the adoption of globalised set of accounting standards include free tax incomes and profits and 100% foreign ownership which has greatly attracted onshore markets hence the need for GCC to demonstrate transparency, integrity and efficiency of their accounting standards, which can obviously be achieved by IFRS adoption (DIFC 2006). Reed (2006) argues that such requirements would greatly challenge countries with authoritative governments as “demands for greater accountability and wider political participation” (p.40). Of particular interest, the establishment of Dubai International Financial Centre required the UAE States to adopt IFRS standards to project the image Al Mulla calls “transparency, efficiency and integrity” (2005, online). After significant considerations, UAE is continuing to change its legislation, the courts and regulatory requirements to be consistence with that of World Bank’s requirements. This therefore brings us to the conclusive analysis that the establishment of DIFX in UAE stimulated globalisation hence the need to demonstrate transparency, integrity and transparency in adopting IFRS (AME Info 2005).
Since UAE joined the World Bank in 1972, it has been able to benefit from projects such as the Technical Cooperation Program that has helped develop infrastructure, economic planning and industrial policy and currently rating 69 out of 155 countries and 6th in the best countries paying taxes (Irvin & Lucas 2006, p.12).
Challenges to IFRS adoption and implementation in UAE
Since the new international accounting standards will call for overhauling the entire regulations and regulatory system of the adopting country, countries unique cultures and beliefs will be completely compromised. Also, different countries have different policies and economies and not all regulatory frameworks are appropriate for financial reporting of all countries (Rodrigues & Craig 2006, p.14). Emerging markets seeking to adopt IFRS should carefully analyse the issues of national culture and regulatory infrastructures. For example, earlier studies have indicated that countries like Papua New Guinea and Fiji have experienced difficulties in adopting what they call “western-style system” because of the westernised ever changing forms of accounting and regulation. The benefits of adopting IFRS in GCC are obviously overwhelming but one challenge often faced by these countries is the culture of secrecy which brings lack of regulation, fraud and money laundering activities. These obstacles can be overcome by initiating tax incentives, adopting international standards of accounting and the presence of multinational corporations such as the PricewaterhouseCoopers among others.
UAE Involvement in international business and capital markets might have been the other reason behind the tendency of the countries to apply IFRS due to the need of business managers and suppliers across borders to understand the international dimensions of accounting standards. Also, it was realised that adoption of international accounting standard would increase information on how to handle financial markets information such as transfer pricing, foreign taxes and environmental costs. The States also saw the need for providing more harmonised accounting information to financial analysts, stock exchange regulators, lenders and investors as standardised accounting application would enable high speed and accuracy of information to be transmitted across financial sectors (Choi et al 2002).
Meghji, a partner at Grant Thornton UAE emphasised the need for IFRS adoption by small and medium sized enterprises by stating that small businesses represented more that 85% of the countries businesses hence the sole providers of job creation and growth of the country. He mentioned financial challenges to be among the major problems faced by SME which can be overcome by what Gavin (2010) mentions as Adopting IFRS for SME, small business in the UAE will be able to provide potential lenders and investors with credible, standardised and transparent financial records, facilitating the extension of credit and benefiting the long term diversification and stability of the domestic economy (online).
Irvin & Lucas (2006) argue that IFRS adoption in GCC will enhance financial health of global markets by providing “transparent, comparable and consistence financial information” (p.3) which equip potential investors with informed investment decisions. Irvin & Lucas (2006) emphasises for the need for high quality accounting standards arguing that IFRS will bring professional bodies to work together hence stability of the markets. Since external shocks such as economic depression caused by expanding economy are likely to occur, IFRS adoption will be mandatory if markets are to function effectively (Lehman 205, p.979).
Globalisation relies entirely on the coalition of countries political systems, culture and societies and interdependence among economies. Therefore the standardised of these operation activities is very necessary so as to accommodate each country’s need. I hypothesise here that the manifestation of market capitalism might have been accelerated by international institutions such as World Bank, IMF and other organs that have embraced globalisation. Washington Consensus proposal quoted in Engardio and Belton (2000) stated that “all countries should open their markets to trade, direct investment, and short-term capital as quickly as possible” (p.43). He continues that even though change may be difficult and inevitable, the markets would greatly benefit from the increased prosperity in the long run. This simply meant that adopting IFRS will bring about deregulation, privatisation, fiscal discipline, liberalised capital markets and tax systems will be reformed and the emerging economies will be assured of growth (Stiglitz 2001, p.231).
The World Bank emphasis on adopting international accounting standards meant that once emerging economies relied on debts, they will be required to adopt westernised system of accountability and regulation in order to develop economically (Clifford 2000, p.47). And since many of them are now depending in donor funding, GCC have seen the necessity of embracing these standards in their global financial markets. Global capitalism seeks to promote what Cooper and Lehman (2003) calls “economic incentive structure”p.362. Free markets on the other hand have been described as “leviathan” characterised with colonial practices. It should however be noted that many countries have benefited from foreign aid through education and irrigation projects. For example, some developing countries soon to be emerging markets are also seeking resources from the western nations to boost their economic activities so as to establish themselves in the global markets.
Many developed countries such as Australia have moved to adopt IFRS in their financial reporting and have been able to achieve greater mobility of capital at reduced costs, efficient allocation of resources, decline in earnings management and improved quality of financial reporting. Developed countries have also avoided developing their own accounting systems against the backdrop of World Banks accountability demands to reduce on costs. The United National Conference Trade and Development (UNCRAD) has also emphasised the need for acknowledging the benefits of IFRS by stating in (UNCTAD 2005) that IFRS “mobilises investment for financing economic and social development”, which has been achieved by “global set of high-quality financing reporting standards” ( p.3). Another benefit inherent in adopting IFRS is that globalised accounting standards will save multinational corporations corporation expenses in developing separate accounting standards for different national jurisdictions. Therefore countries operating cross-border businesses will benefit greatly from the enhanced accounting standards and the expansion of global markets for their services (Irvin & Lucas 2006, P.8).
Increased trade across GCC nations has increased pressure for the adoption of IFRS since trade links between Europe and US have increased over the years. Irvin & Lucas (2006) gives an example of European Union requirement which could have led to the adoption of IFRS by GCC by stating that “the EU’s requirement for listed consolidated entities to adopt IFRS from January 2005, the UAE’s move towards adoption of IFRS is understandable” (p.9). GCC establishment of free trade zones aimed at reducing trading barriers enabled investing countries to enjoy free tax, few regulatory requirements and lower employment costs hence increased globalisation. Free trade strategy has opened ports such as Port Rashid and Ali Free Zone which have been recognised among top business ports with import of 75% entering the UAE duty free and no tariffs on exports (Irvin & Lucas 2006, p.10).
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Desire for UAE to establish itself as an international capital market will enable it to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) therefore the need for globalised set of accounting standards. Irvin & Lucas (2006) states that IFRS will “Ensure trustworthy, reliable financial information about corporations” (p.10) and the opening of DIFX further accelerated the urgency to adopt IFRS to serve as a platform for investment opportunities for world markets and for stock exchanges in Hong Kong, London and New York. The investing countries are promised to enjoy 100% foreign ownership, zero tax on profits and incomes, business continuity facilities, operation support and no restriction on foreign exchange, a strategy that has greatly facilitated investment opportunities hence the need for adoption for IFRS. We realise that not only did DIFX enhance growth of foreign investment; adoption of IFRS facilitated integrity, transparency and efficiency of financial reporting (Irvin & Lucas 2006, p.11). Al Mulla argues that DIFX requirement of listed companies to comply with IFRS will impose strong reporting requirement that will act as a powerful incentive for firms wishing to access the capital markets of the world to ensure that they prepare high quality accounts in accordance with international Benchmarks (online).
World Bank’s primary role is to lend funds to countries in need for investment purposes and uses this position to subject borrowing countries to adopt international accounting standards such as the IFRS in order to be eligible for loan application. These organisations however subject countries to IFRS as a standardised requirement and countries needing financial assistance must apply uniformed procedures what Lehman (2005) calls “principles of economic rationality” (p.976). Before a loan is issued, World Bank looks at issues such as the countries other businesses related outcomes, how the countries deal with licensing, economic strength and the ease of starting business. Their beneficial motives have pushed GCC to the adoption of IFRS with emphasis on the banking sector what Irvin & Lucas (2006) states as “one of the most effective leverages for sustaining competitiveness and security equity in society” (p.11). Financial institutions such as banks have been proven to be the most effective measure for providing economic growth or strength, dealing with licenses, other-business related outcomes and ease of starting business in a given country hence the need for IFRS adoption.
Examples of companies that have benefited from the international accounting standards include the Big 4 accounting firms present in the UAE such as the PricewaterhouseCoopers as demonstrated by the Arab Business Intelligence Report (PricewaterhouseCoopers 2006), the Ernst and Young’s (2006) Global Fraud Survey and the KPMG (2004) Gulf Cooperation Council Fraud Survey, which have all been recognised for adding value to the economy. Other international accounting firms that operating on IFRS requirements also requiring GCC clients to prepare their financial statements in accordance to international accounting standards.
World Bank also requires accounting projects that have applied to be financial aid to be certified by international reputable firms such as the Big 4 hence the necessity for IFRS adoption. Other accounting firms are also encouraging their clients to prepare their accounts under IFRS.
Big 4 Accounting Firms
The UAE invitation of multinational leaders to in the World Accounting Summit such as the Coca-cola, Deloitte, KPMG, PWC among others to speak on the benefits of applying international accounting standards and the difficulties the countries were likely to encounter helped on IFRS adoption. Intergovernmental Working Group of Experts on International Standards of Accounting & Reporting quoted in AME Info (2005) stated that given the dramatic changes to the global corporate landscape where the world is rapidly changing into a global village, there is an imperative need to have a common medium of communication between the international accounting bodies and multinational companies” (online).
The chairman of Dubai Financial Service Services Authority, Dr. Habib Al Mulla stressed the need for IFRs adoption in the UAE arguing that financial institutions require strong regulations and in the long run may benefit the organisations but it should however be understood that the adoption of IFRs in UAE will not be without challenges.
Application of IFRS in advanced economies
IFRS application in Australia has impacted taxation concept that has affected a range of tax payers and positively impact on the economy since the accounting standards have improved comparability of financial information. Some of the IFRS inherent benefits include efficient allocation of capital across borders thereby reducing the burden of economic down turn. Compliance costs for corporations have greatly reduced and consistencies in audit quality have been reported to improve. Another benefit is that since tax payers are required to report their financial accounts using the IFRS, IFRS adoption has resulted to greater certainty, balanced neutrality, maintained compliance cost, a neutral tax environment that does not hinder the location of Australian financial activities and creates a positive environment free from arbitrage and deferrals. Since the administration is aligned with IFRS, the government ensures an effective comparative corporate reporting and governance processes thereby reducing the cost of capital in the country and improving its access to foreign capital that entities can borrow from resulting to a stronger economy. The international convergence of IFRS facilitates across border listings and comparison of financial investment for Australia thereby reducing its cost of capital and improves its access to foreign capital for its entities (Australian Government 2005, p.9).
Recent surveys conducted on IFRS application in Australia reported that larger companies in Australia benefited greatly with the statement adoption whilst smaller companies experience transitional problems. IFRS adoption is proposed to increase harmonisation of accounting policies and increase the participation of international investors thereby reducing transaction costs. On the other hand, the country will be able to comply with the international expectations of accounting standards that will increase the need of comparability hence economic improvement. IFRS adoption requires re-distribution of wealth which stimulate more competitive environment hence increased global business for an ailing economy (Australian Government 2005, p.9).
Despite the contributions IFRS make to the economy, the IFRS policy makers make efforts to accommodate “Geographically diverse and inclusive” cultures (UNCTAD 2005, p11). They should be sensitive to cultural issues like difficulties in handing power to an international body especially when the implementation includes differences in measurements and terminology. Although many developed countries have adopted the IFRS in order to access global capitals, many of them have not reached the point of commitment despite signing the Memorandum of Understanding. There have always been challenges in adopting IFRS in emerging economies due to the language barrier. For this reason, policy makers should develop accounting standards that can be translated and used by all. IFRS in GCC countries should be fully developed to extend where it can fully regulate accounting and financial reporting effectively. It should also be noted that the regulatory structure of emerging markets may not entirely provide sound financial reporting as that of developed countries. The corporate governance requires the coordination of legislative requirements that accommodate both IFRS and national laws of a country to ensure that the new standards are applied. Other industry players such as the tax authorities, investors, rating agencies and analysts need to be educated on the benefits of adopting IFRS. IFRS policy makers should also consider the extend to which the standards can be applied since the process requires professional expertise, legal backing, equity financing, education and training and the possibility of adoption of IFRS amendments to suit countries specific culture and legislative infrastructure (Irvin & Lucas 2006, p.9).
Grant Thornton, a leading accounting and consulting firm in the United Arab Emirates has backed the introduction of International Financial Reporting Standards by GCC countries by emphasising the benefits the countries are likely to achieve. Countries without democratic history should recognise and embrace the challenges inherent with IFRS adoption in order to overcome the culture of secrecy and fraud. Since the six countries in GCC have over years been able to promote economic cooperation and development in the region and recently began to indulge in stock exchange markets, should use the same strategy to embrace IFRS system that will accelerate growth, increase of capital markets and increase stock prices.
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