Abu dhabi finance zone gears up to open with draft rules

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Abu Dhabi's new financial free zone, which aims to become a top banking centre for the region, took a step towards opening for business by issuing draft laws covering fund management, market operations, information disclosure and enforcement of its rules. The drafts will be available for public comment over a six-week period, and the zone plans to accept its first applications for financial service operating licences by the end of this year, Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) said on Tuesday. Because of Abu Dhabi's vast oil wealth, bankers think the ADGM could eventually become a major player in the Middle East and even compete in some areas with the fast-growing Dubai International Financial Centre, 130 kilometres (80 miles) away.

It will have its own regulator, court system and tax incentives to attract banks and companies from around the world. Last year it hired Hector Sants, a former investment banker who headed Britain's financial services regulator, to advise it. The draft legislation would create a regulator with extensive powers to make rules and investigate trading. The ADGM plans to adopt European Union regulations known as EMIR for clearing, reporting and limiting risks in over-the-counter trade of derivatives.

The ADGM will consult with stakeholders on whether it should have its own legislation to handle banking sector insolvencies, it said. The draft also includes steps to attract fund management business to the ADGM by limiting costs and red tape; some types of fund would not be required to have their financial statements audited, if investors gave their consent.

In order to persuade companies to list in the ADGM, the minimum free float requirement for share offers would be only 10-12 percent, in line with Singapore but much lower than the European Union's 25 percent, the draft said. In its initial announcement of its plan for the ADGM in 2013, the Abu Dhabi government said the zone would host various types of bank, foreign exchange and commodity trading firms, brokerages, pension and investment funds, Islamic financial firms and many others. It also said the zone would fill a gap in the global trading day between Tokyo and London. Tuesday's statement suggested that initially, the ADGM would have a more narrow focus. It said that at first, the zone would be centred on private banking, wealth management and asset management, while keeping the flexibility "to expand its activities over time according to market demand".