Tuesday, November 15, 2011

INDONESIA: MUI wary amid barrage of Chinese Halal food exports

Original Article Source: The Jakarta Post

The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) confirms a sharp rise in Halal food products coming from China, but it remains sceptical over China’s Halal industry, which is presumed to still be in its developmental stages.
“The number of Halal products from China has increased by 50 to 100 percent since last year,” MUI Food and Drug Analysis Agency (LPPOM) chief Lukmanul Hakim told The Jakarta Post. He said that some of China’s Halal food exports — which far exceeded those from Europe and the US — came from Ningxia, a province known for its Muslim Hui ethnicity. Muslims in Ningxia account for around 38 percent of the province’s 6.3 million residents. The province recently announced it had developed a Halal industry to accommodate not just the needs of Chinese Muslims but also Muslims in other countries.
Ningxia’s Halal food commission said that the province had more than 10,000 factories and restaurants that were certified Halal. The region’s Halal industry, which is supported by a high tech laboratory, 15 experts and 300 staffers, was currently worth up to 50 million RMB (US$7.9 million). The commission added that the industry had been working with foreign counterparts since 2008, cooperating on a reciprocal basis with Halal institutions in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt and Malaysia, with Indonesia soon to join the mix.
Lukmanul acknowledged the booming development of China’s Halal industry, but said that the
LPPOM, acting as Indonesia’s Halal certification authority, did not see itself engaging in any Chinese cooperation in the near future. “They can cooperate with Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, but here we pay great attention to standards and human resource competency. It is not just a matter of issuing a certificate.”
According to Lukmanul, establishing cooperation with foreign Halal institutions meant agreeing to the validity of their certification systems and trusting their assessments of products to be exported to Indonesia.
The LPPOM has so far approved the Halal certification of 46 overseas institutions from 22 countries including the US, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and the Netherlands. For all its Halal exports to Indonesia, China did not make the list.
“We are not yet able to approve their Halal certification, partly because of their political situation,” Lukmanul said.
He explained that the MUI had to consider China’s trade policy. He said that given the country’s dominance and pragmatic approach in the politics of trade, China could be inclined to sacrifice Halal aspects in favour of economic efficiency.
“China knows that the [Halal] market is here. They are willing to follow any foreign standards as long as they succeed in getting into the country. The MUI has to decide what is best, and, for the moment, our hearts are telling us no,” he said.
Lukmanul believed that China’s surge in Halal product exports — including those to Indonesia — was more of a reflection of its economic sensibilities than its Muslim growth.
Therefore, the MUI decided that it was best to take on the responsibility of assessing Chinese Halal products independently rather than leaving it up to a local institution.
“We have to make sure that they are really Halal,” he said.
As of the first eight months of this year, Indonesia’s non-oil and gas imports from China reached $16.4 billion, up by 27 percent compared to last year, making a total trade deficit of $3.55 billion.

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