With the international halal market worth over US$1tn, Dubai is moving ahead with long-hatched plans to position itself as a global halal hub.
This month, the emirate opened the doors to a so-called “halal cluster”, which will serve as a dedicated base for halal manufacturing and logistic companies in food, cosmetics, and personal care industries.
“The creation of the halal cluster is another step towards [Dubai ruler] Sheikh Mohammed’s vision to become the capital of Islamic economy,” said Abdulla Belhoul, chief executive of Dubai Industrial City, where the cluster is based.
All about accreditation
But then there is the subject of halal accreditation—an issue that has never satisfactorily been resolved.
According to Farah Al Zarooni, director of the standards department at Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology (ESMA) accreditation requires a high level of credibility in its certification.
There is no accord between Islamic scholars over what is religiously permissible and what is not, and so opinions on the subject vary greatly. Despite attempts by international Islamic bodies, such as the World Halal Food Council, to achieve worldwide guidelines, there are no global standards for halal certifications.
Gulf countries have been talking for years about adopting a unified standard, but after a lot of hot air and various high-handed yet unfulfilled proclamations, a recent move by the UAE might well ready the way for unification in accreditation across the region.
The UAE cabinet earlier this month approved a scheme covering UAE-made and imported products to determine whether they are halal.
“Within the UAE, we at Esma are the sole body for issuing all the standards and technical regulations including the halal,” said Al Zarooni, adding that a lack of unified standards identifying products as halal is the “biggest” challenge facing the country’s food sector.
“The technical regulations of the UAE will not only control the halal process, but also make sure that all the ingredients going into the manufacturing are from halal sources. In the case of meat, slaughterhouses will be at the centre of scrutiny,” she added.
Malaysia is currently the global leader in developing halal industry standards, and its halal mark is seen across Asia as the only really cohesive system.
The country exported US$9.8 billion worth of halal products in 2013, according to the Oxford Business Group, and companies like Kellogg and Hershey are planning to build halal-compliant facilities in Malaysia largely on account of the strength of its accreditation.
It is yet to be seen how the UAE’s scheme will work, but it would do well to look at how Malaysia—which will now be seen as a competitor in the segment—has gone about its established standard.