Brunei Darussalam is seeking to tap into the non-food halal production, with both pharmaceutical products and side materials offering great potential.
Apart from producing a growing range of foodstuffs that qualify as halal or pure under Islamic law, Brunei has established itself as a halal accreditation centre, using the Brunei Halal Brand (BHB) as a mark of quality for goods produced both locally and internationally. Following a rigourous testing process, foods, drugs and other products submitted to BHB can carry the brand name, indicating to buyers that they meet the requirements of purity set out by Sharia law.
Brunei is now preparing to go a step beyond, branching out into other industries. The International Halal Market Conference, held in Darussalam on August 16 and 17, canvassed a wider range of opportunities for the halal production and services.
One sub-sector of the halal industry Brunei is actively looking at entering is the pharmaceutical market. In 2006, the global halal pharmaceutical market was estimated to be worth $100bn.
According to Abd-El Aziem Farouk Gad, a professor of molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Brunei Darussalam, one such opening is the possible production of halal gelatin utilising biotechnology for use in pharmaceutical capsules, a project that is already being researched, he said.
"The world produces 285,000 tonnes of gelatin, 42% of the components that make up the gelatin is from pork as well as from non-halal animals," Gad said.
As part of this drive to further develop pharmaceutical and other products in line with the requirements of Sharia, the UBD is planning to set up Molecular Biotechnology and Halal Research Centre.
"The set-up of the centre will become a platform to reach the objectives through innovation, commercialisation and 'halallisation'," Gad told the local press on August 16.
Halal accreditation in the pharmaceutical industry does not just include the identification of ingredients but also business practices that make the product safe for consumption, manufactured in a clean environment, and in accordance with ethical standards, said Selma Djukic, head of the White Owl Global Services, a service and consulting agency focusing on the pharmaceutical sector.
"There is a growing movement in the world as a whole on finding a way to have product supplies that are environmentally-friendly, organic, and from companies which take their profits and invest in enterprises with no profits. All of this together is actually the definition of halal," she said.
There are also good prospects for the development of halal alternative medicine, Djukic said, with a growing trend for people to seek out options to conventional medical treatments.
Another project under consideration is the developing of a rice plantation that would use fertilisers and other farm inputs certified as halal, a project that would ensure sharia compliance from the very beginning for food products, Gad said.
There is also scope for developing Sharia-compliant tourism, an important factor for Brunei as it sees the industry as a major revenue earner for the future.
"With eco-tourism being developed, the halal aspect is very important," said Mustafa Jassem, marketing manager at Al Islami Foods in Dubai. "It is an important thing for any tourist to live in a hotel as comfortable as living in his homeland, especially for the Muslim tourists who come here to enjoy the environment with no night clubs or alcohol."
Halal also offers opportunities for offshore investments and Brunei should think globally when considering the halal market, commented Hajj Abdalhamid Evans, the managing director of Imarat Consultants.
"There are a lot of opportunities available and entering the market is not just about who can make the most chickens," he told delegates. "You can own a company that is based on the other side of the world, and production doesn't have to be in your own backyard. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, you can buy it."
While there are opportunities to be taken advantage of, there are also pitfalls that Brunei has to be wary of. Foremost among these, according to Ahmad Adam, president and founder of Crescent Foods of Chicago and founder of the American Halal Association, is ensuring product quality. "It is not enough to offer halal goods and services, Brunei producers also have to guarantee high standard," he said.
Though the BHB has been recognised as a benchmark for halal products, the country only has limited production capacity and a relatively low international profile. These factors could serve as an obstacle in boosting investments in halal industries and increasing its role in the accreditation process, said Evans.
Brunei has a blueprint for future development of halal goods and services, but high levels of investment and close co-operation between the state and the private sector will be needed if the country's ambitions are to be fulfilled.