“When I export to the UAE, I am literally exporting to seven different countries. I would rather put my effort somewhere else,” said Arjun Chavan, a Mumbai-based halal meat and frozen foods exporter, speaking with FoodNavigator.
Chavan is not alone. Exporters based in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, and even Australia will tell you in private about the problem of each of the seven emirates that make up the UAE having their own standards, requirements and processes on safety, hygiene and packaging.
Thankfully for them, respite is in sight. At the end of last month, officials representing all the emirates met and announced that they were close to unifying their food safety standards under one federal safety law, which is likely to go into force next year.
Fawaz Abdullah, chief of food control at Ras Al Khaimah (one of the emirates) Municipality, said the law was likely to be adopted after final clearances from the relevant departments and ministries. Abdullah was speaking at the end of last month at a workshop organized by the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
At the crux of the unified safety law, which is likely to cheer exporters to the UAE, is the standardization of food testing labs that are spread across the country. This would mean that after the port of entry, exporters could obtain their certification at the closest lab and it will be valid across the UAE.
According to Abdullah, the first steps in unifying the food safety system have already begun. A federal recall system for food was already operational and databases at laboratories were now inter-connected.
“If there is any recall in one emirate, they will notify other emirates at the same time,” he said at the workshop.
The ‘other’ UAE
Chavan, who is a member of the All India Meat and Livestock Exporters Association, said that if the process is completed next year, it could open up a lot more of the UAE market—where per capita food consumption currently stands at 1,486kg per year, the highest the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) region, which comprises of the Persian Gulf states of United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
Chavan says that while it is easy to access the markets of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which are advanced and rich emirates, it is not so smooth accessing the others, which are demographically valuable to food industry players.
“I hope this unified food safety law translates to a unified food safety system. What I have seen is that other emirates lack the resources and the people to properly address concerns of exporters, retailers and consumers,” he says.
Carmen Bullon, an international food law officer at the FAO, said at the same workshop that coordination between the emirates is always going to be necessary and having different legislations is a challenge, but federal food law will help once it is implemented properly.