Unveiling the so-called ‘Reading Law’, UAE President Sheikh Khalifa said the goal was to foster UAE’s aspirations of a thriving knowledge economy.

When in force, the law will entitle employees to time off work to read, and will guarantee that all reading materials remain tax free when VAT is introduced at 5% from January 2018.

The IPA has long advocated for the exemption of all books (e-books and print) from VAT.

Each year the IPA and the Federation of European Publishers release a joint report mapping the way VAT is applied to books around the world. The 2016 report, which was unveiled two weeks ago at Frankfurt Book Fair, can be found here.

Books are a highly price-sensitive commodity, which means even a small rise in the cost to the consumer can have dramatic, harmful impacts, such as damaging public educational performance, encouraging piracy and driving legitimate booksellers and publishers out of business. One example of this is Kenya, where sales of books have dropped by 35% countrywide since a 16% rate of VAT was imposed on books in 2013.

Commenting on the UAE’s new Reading Law, IPA Secretary General José Borghino said: ‘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.’

Emirates Publishers Association (EPA) founder and IPA Executive Committee Director Bodour Al Qasimi said the EPA had been instrumental in alerting the UAE government to the wider implications of VAT on books.

She said: ‘Through our involvement in the IPA we have followed the issue of VAT on books closely. 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.’

The announcement came just two days before the opening of the Sharjah International Book Fair, one of the region’s most important annual celebrations of books and reading.