The halal business is worth trillion of dollars but so far business in Pakistan have failed to make headway despite the huge potential for an exports-oriented market. Over the years, there has been empty rhetoric and promises but no serious effort has been made by the state functionaries concerned to organise and regulate the halal trade. The only exception has been meat — the export of which has increased more because of their high quality (Pakistani mutton is considered a high-end product in Middle East countries for instance) and less for being a halal item.

The first serious effort to formally harness the business potential of halal was when the government initiated the Pakistan Halal Authority (PHA) project. A bill in this connection was introduced in the National Assembly on July 30, 2015. It was passed by the lower house on December 6 and was cleared by the Senate’s Standing Committee on Science and Technology on January 25, 2016 and now needs only a formal nod from the upper house to become a law. The Council of Common Interests gave approval to the PHA project in its meeting on March 18, 2015.

Once the bill is passed the PHA will emerge as the first legal entity to regulate halal businesses across the country. Although it is seen as a major milestone in the campaign to boost export of products that are permissible by Islamic laws, its organisational structure is not free from anomalies and irritants that can undermine the synergy in relationships with other stakeholders.


Pakistani businesses have failed to tap into the growing global halal market


It is quite ironic that what should have been a joint assignment of the ministries of Commerce and Religious Affairs has been handed over to the Ministry of Science and Technology — the federal science minister will, surprisingly, be the chairman of the PHA. Besides, the centre-province relationship may not be free from irritants.

While the PHA will be a federal organisation covering the whole country, it cannot stop, for instance, the sale or purchase of items that contain ‘haram’ ingredients because this is a provincial subject and only provinces can take action. It will be of interest to watch how provinces react when the PHA comes into existence. Punjab is the only province which has its own body called the Punjab Halal Development Agency (PHDA) that prescribes standards and processes for certification of halal products.

In 2014, the then minister for science and technology stated in the National Assembly that his ministry was not aware of any ‘haram’ or forbidden products being sold in the country at that time. But different edible products are tested at the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR), a subsidiary of his ministry, to confirm that they contain no prohibited ingredients.

Similarly, a senior official of the ministry stunned the members of a National Assembly committee on February 25, 2015 by revealing that many imported packaged food items being sold in the country contained haram ingredients. He presented a list of 19 such items and stated that his ministry had no mandate to stop their sale. Why the Science Ministry has been chosen to carry out such a delicate task is difficult to understand, nor has its justification been explained. The only justification the ministry can boast of is the role of Pakistan National Accreditation Council (PNAC), another subsidiary of the ministry.

The PNAC, established in 1998 as a requirement of the WTO, is the country’s apex agency and will play a central role in running the PHA. It accredits conformity assessment bodies such as medical laboratories, inspection bodies and halal certification bodies. It has so far awarded accreditation certificate to four halal certification bodies in the country.

The halal market includes a large variety of food products from raw chicken and beef to processed foods and cold drinks, pharmaceuticals and even toiletries. But one of the fastest growing consumer items in the world is halal meat — it contributes around 16 per cent of the total world trade.

During the 2015-16 fiscal year, Pakistan’s meat and meat products exports registered an increase of 10.54 per cent over the 2014-15 figures. The country earned $269.122 million by exporting 76,448 metric tons of meat, according to the data of Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. Pakistan has immense potential in the halal meat sector as the country has more than 159 million animals.

The global spending on halal food and lifestyle products could rise by 10.8 per cent per year until 2019 and, thus, create an international industry worth $3.7 trillion, according to a Global Islamic Economy Report. The halal food sector alone will grow to a valuation of $2.537 trillion by that year. The top countries with Muslim consumer food consumption are Indonesia, with a market worth $190 billion, Turkey $168 billion and Pakistan $108 billion.

The halal market, one must admit, is as much commercial as are other markets. It isn’t restricted to Muslim consumers and producers anymore. The Muslim expatriate population is too particular about consuming halal food. But trade is mainly in the hands of companies based in non-Muslim countries, with none of the Muslim countries being among top ten. Ironically, the country considered the world leader in the halal export market so far has been New Zealand.

In a statement of objects and reasons accompanying the halal bill, federal science minister Rana Tanveer Hussain, the mover, regrets that the huge halal market has been “taken away by non-Muslim countries”. Surprisingly enough, more than 80 per cent of the world halal trade is done by non-Muslim countries such as India, Thailand, China, Brazil, Australia, US and Europe, who have utilised the halal brand name to their economic benefit and have emerged as the biggest exporters of halal products.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 21st, 2016

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