Carving a Niche

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Launched in August last year, Brunei Halal Brand (BHB) has been trying to establish itself as a leading player for products acceptable to the world's Muslim community. Having started out as a means of certifying domestically produced goods as halal - meeting the requirements set down under Sharia law as being both pure and manufactured or processed in a manner in line with religious tenets - BHB is fast becoming the global standard for such products.

According to a statement from the ministry of industry, the creation of the BHB is in line with the sultanate's efforts to move towards a diversified, competitive and sustainable economy.

As part of this policy, the government has set aside a 263 ha site to be developed as an agro-technological park at Tungku, Gadong. The park is intended to support the BHB project through providing opportunities for firms involved in research into halal products as well as industrial activities.

One of the cornerstones of the park, the initial stage of which is scheduled to open in mid-2009, will be the New Halal Science Centre, a research institute designed to develop new products and test existing ones.

There will also be an agribusiness incubator to facilitate the establishing of agriculture-based companies that will be able to access the park's scientific and managerial resources and develop them into viable ventures.

However, the BHB project is moving far beyond the boundaries of the domestic economy, providing a certification service for foreign companies seeking to enter the lucrative international halal market.

In 2007, more than 200 Australian firms applied for certification under the BHB, 160 of them being food producers or processors and the remaining 40 being providers of services to the food industry such as packaging, storage, transport and specialist advisory services. Companies from countries such as New Zealand and Canada are also lining up to apply for full accreditation.

In mid-March, the Department of Agriculture and the Brunei Darussalam University unveiled a new testing process for meat to ensure it was halal involving checking biomarkers, proving whether or not an animal has been slaughtered in the appropriate manner.

According to Normah SH Jamil, the acting director of agriculture at the ministry of industry and primary resources, the new process will be both cheaper than existing methods and strengthen BHB's credentials.

"This will help develop the confidence of consumers," she told the local press on March 14. "When they see the Brunei Halal Brand it means that it has been checked thoroughly through physical observation and through the scientific tools being used."

Though the certifying of meat and the methods of its processing are one of the best known examples of halal testing, Brunei sees a far wider niche for BHB. In mid-April, Dato Paduka Hj Hamdillah, Brunei's acting Minister of Industry and Primary Resources, announced it was an objective of the BHB programme to extend the scheme to pharmaceutical and cosmetics.

"Our target is to capture a minimum 1% of the $500bn global halal market by 2020," Dato Hj Hamdillah was reported as saying. "We are pretty optimistic of our intended goals in the global halal market and industry, and we are offering avenues whereby foreign firms can become our partners in this endeavour."

However, Brunei is facing stiff competition in the halal marketplace, both in the areas of international certification and local production.

In May, the Malaysian government announced a package of incentives for producers of halal products to set up shop in its country. These included investment tax allowances, support for export of halal products and exemption of duties for the import of raw materials.

Malaysia also has a halal certification authority in place, the Halal Development Corporation, and in early June Abu Dhabi mooted the idea of setting up an international standard across all halal products, which could negate efforts by Brunei to establish BHB as a leading certification brand.

Though having established itself as a reputable halal accreditation authority and producer, Brunei will have to compete with the growing globalisation of the halal market, with increasing competition from high profile and well funded rivals both in the region and the Middle East.

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