Region in focus

Dateline Southeast Asia

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

Dateline Southeast Asia

Related tags European union Food

Malaysian halal firms opening up new markets in China

Manufacturers of Malaysian halal food will now see their products on sale at over 6,000 more supermarkets in China after their industry representatives signed a distribution agreement with two chains there.

The goods will be sent to areas with large Muslim populations by Beijing Hualian Group Supermarket and Lianhua Group, which have a network of 106 and 6,000 supermarkets respectively.

The Bumiputera Manufacturers and Services Industry Association of Malaysia (PPIPBM) expects good response to Malaysian halal products among Muslims in China.

"For example, Xining in Qinghai province, with two million Muslims and the country's fourth highest per capita income, has three Beijing Hualian supermarkets," PPIPBM treasurer General Ramlan Abdul Majid said after signing a memorandum of understanding with the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Chamber of Commerce.

Nearly 40 per cent of PPIPBM's 1,500 members are export-ready and have ventured into the Middle East market, Ramlan said, adding at least 26 Malaysian firms will be bringing their food and beverage products into China, a process expected to take up to two months.

In 2014, Malaysia exported US$1.7bn worth of halal products to China, comprising mostly processed food, halal ingredients, and palm oil products.

From January to March this year, Malaysia-China trade declined to US$13.67bn from US$14.74bn in the same quarter in 2014.

Meanwhile, Qinghai Business Federation president Zhao Heng Lun said a showroom featuring 1,000 types of halal products from Qinghai will be opened in Malaysia.

"However, we are still at the discussion stage, we will decide on the location and time frame to execute the plan​,” Zhao said.

"The slower economic growth of seven per cent in the first quarter indicated that we need to be more aggressive, expanding overseas as well as working with companies from other countries to grow the business, and we came here to work with Malaysian companies​.”

Vietnam should be wary about new raft of FTAs

Vietnamese authorities have been warned that the large number of free-trade agreements the country has been accruing will pose challenges to local companies.

FTAs offer a wealth of opportunities for Vietnam's economic sectors, especially trading, given the many tax and investment incentives that come with them, Nguyen Thi Thu Trang of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Vietnam News.

So far, the nation has inked nine FTAs, most recently with South Korea and the European Economic Union. Other new-generation FTAs are also under negotiation, including one with the European Union and the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty with 11 other nations.

But the new trade pacts also require the Vietnamese government to comply strictly with commitments on support policies for domestic industries.

Referring to the food processing industry as an example, Nguyen Anh Duong of the Central Institute for Economic Management said that new partner countries could levy stricter anti-dumping measures, while local firms struggle to remain competitive amidst several problems including inadequate access to credit and manpower.

Agriculture is more vulnerable to the impact of FTAs since it uses mostly Vietnamese workers. Market fluctuations and inclement weather were also risks that the sector faced, he said.

Besides encouraging scientific and technological applications and market expansion, the government should also enhance communication on both advantages and challenges brought about by FTAs, he said.

Food poisoning on the up in Vietnam

Vietnam registered 42 serious food poisoning cases over the first five months of this year—an increase of 17% over the same period last year.

Overall, food poisoning affected some 1,900 people, of whom 10 died, from January to May. Although the same number of people have died this year, the number of food poisoning cases has risen sharply, from just over 1,000 last year, Vietnam’s official statistics office announced. 

Vietnam also detected 16,100 foot-and-mouth disease patients and no new infections of bird flu virus A/H5N1 in the first five months of this year.

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