Tapping into the halal economy

Last updated 17:24 13/07/2012

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The Muslim slaughtermen turns the stunned sheep to face Mecca, offering a prayer to Allah as he slits its throat and leaves the carcass to bleed out.

This bloody image is the face of halal in New Zealand, but business leaders will have to move past it if they want a piece of the largely untapped $2.3 trillion halal economy globally.

"Halal is not about ritual slaughtering of animals," said Jamil Bidin, chief executive of Malaysia's Halal Industry Development Corporation.

"If you go beyond that, halal is not only in food products, but non-food."

Halal, which simply means "permissible" in Arabic, relates to the Islamic beliefs around what can and cannot be consumed. A cosmetic containing animal products or alcohol, for example, might not be considered halal.

Bidin is part of a visiting delegation who spoke at the University of Auckland Business School's Asia Dialogue conference today.

The delegation leaders, which also included Malaysian billionaire Tan Sri Halim Saad, want Kiwis to realise that the true scope of the halal economy extends beyond just meat.

Cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, financial services and furniture are just a few of the opportunities they identify, with no shortage of demand and virtually no supply.

"If you look at the requirements of the Islam religion, if there is a halal product available you must consume or use halal product," said Bidin.

"With just one logo on your product, you will have an additional 1.8 billion Muslim customers around the world."

Certification has been one of the main barriers to uptake of halal practices, with a range of licensees here adhering to varying standards and intepretations of Islamic law.

One representative spoke out at the conference to say he was surprised that others did not consider the process simple or transparent.

"It looks like we have not done a good enough job in communicating that to the industry."

Bidin and Halim Saad said that New Zealand would need support - from Government or elsewhere - to continue to raise awareness and dispel misconceptions.

"There needs to be a body to provide some kind of advice or guidance to the industry players," said Bidin.

In Australia, he said, the halal economy was already on the government agenda because of the sizeable economic contribution it provided.

Most New Zealand abattoirs already perform halal killing, but Halim Saad said he was looking for an end-to-end process "from farm to fork".

That would extends the practice to every single link in the supply and logistics chain, raising the possibility of creating international halal networks.

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"I am keen to talk with potential investors from New Zealand about setting up an alliance between New Zealand, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and any other regions or business activities to invest in the food industry," he said.

Bidin said that while New Zealand businesses were well-placed to take advantage of the market, they risked missing out if they failed to go "the last mile".

"New Zealand is very strong in agriculture. New Zealand has got some good brands. And the standard is high. What is missing, is halal."

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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