Halal Opportunities

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With companies around the globe realising the importance of tapping into the market for halal products, Brunei is now set to offer its own contribution, with new initiatives in line to increase the sultanate's mark on the global halal industry.

With limited land availability and a lack of expertise in large-scale animal farming, Brunei has chosen to focus on the intellectual capital behind halal products instead. Brunei Halal Brand (BHB), a project coordinated by the Ministry of Industry and Primary Resources (MIPR), will act as a conduit for the sultanate's halal ventures. The BHB will offer auditing, branding and packaging for food and beverages manufactured domestically and abroad, in cooperation with the Ministry of Religion. In the short-term, talk from the MIPR focuses on food production, while a longer-range plan suggests diversification into cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Halal products from food to finance are emerging with increasing regularity. On account of this spread of offerings, estimates at the value of the world halal industry vary according to which products are included. While the biggest enthusiasts, including all sectors, have earmarked a $2trn figure, Agri-Food Trade Service, a Canadian company that provides market information, rates the global value of halal food alone at a still-considerable $500bn. With the world's Muslim population rapidly approaching 1.9bn, rising incomes spurring demand in Muslim nations, and halal methods overlapping with increasingly fashionable concerns about animal welfare and organics, the sector promises to be a lucrative bet for some time to come.

Southeast Asia shows a strong demand for halal goods. Malaysia and Indonesia alone imported a combined $12.8bn of halal foodstuffs in 2005. With its population of almost 380,000 nearly exclusively Muslim and a per capita GDP of over $25,000, Brunei itself offers an enticing market and sees strong potential for growth.

BHB's director, Pg Hj Hassan PMSLDSI Pg Hj Damit, has said the company eventually intends to export to the Middle East. In the meantime, however, China's largely unopened market of 40m Muslims represents a more enticing prospect. Following the China-ASEAN Trade Expo in October, Damit remarked, "If we can get a small market share of even one per cent, that is good enough."

Halaqah, a Brunei-based food manufacturer, introduced three new halal meat products with the BHB seal and has seen strong response from Chinese consumers. Other Brunei corporations, including SPHI Food Industries, McCrumby, and Zainab Utama Enterprises, made steps towards boosting their international presence at last week's Abu Dhabi Halal World Expo.

In an effort to establish its position as a market leader, Brunei is responsible for the International Halal Products Expo (IHPE), which debuted in 2006.

Outside of Brunei, a raft of interested parties, notably from Australia, is testament to the growing importance of halal endeavours. Brian Norwood, chairman of food producer Elders Victoria, has said that food exporters should be looking at the new opportunity. "If you are involved in export, or are thinking about export, you really need to have a think about whether or not you should be involved in halal," Norwood told local press.

Jacinta Allan, Victoria's minister for regional and rural development, has also expressed interest in partnerships with Brunei. She told local press that specialist training institutions in Victoria were interested in working with the government of Brunei to provide courses in food technology.

In addition Swiss food giant Nestlé has expressed interest in obtaining BHB's accreditation for its own halal products. Although Nestlé's halal range is already on the market, representatives have remarked that the BHB seal of approval would be a welcome acquisition.

The MIPH is developing the Brunei AgroTechnology Park, slated for completion in early 2009. The 263-hectare facility is already courting foreign investors, with 20 private-sector food producers, both domestic and international, so far committed to the site. In addition, the park will include a research and food development centre for halal products.

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