Isn’t it amazing that a country with a predominantly Buddhist population is organising the World Halal Congress early next month and projecting itself as a kitchen for the world.
Thailand relies heavily on exports, which make up more than 60 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP). Its domestic market is not that large and thus the country strives to penetrate untapped markets and diversify into new areas. The halal trade fits perfectly in this scheme of things.
According to a document produced by Dr Winai Dahlan of the Halal Science Centre, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, its share in the global halal food market is just one per cent.
Hence, Thailand is targeting Muslims across the word, particularly those living in Western economies – where those who have migrated tend to enjoy a higher amount of disposable income than in their home countries.
The higher purchasing power of Muslims in the US and European countries make them biggest halal consumers – in France, for example, the halal food market has grown larger than the market for organic food.
In 2008, the total food consumption of the more than 1.6 billion Muslims spread across 148 countries was valued at $520 billion while international Halal food trade was valued at $150 billion.
Thailand, one of the world’s leading food producers – with exports of rice, vegetables, and fruits – is not a Muslim country and neither are its food makers. In fact, producers from Taiwan, China and other countries are investing heavily in halal food production for export purposes.
Entrepreneurs, therefore, have turned to the Central Islamic Committee of Thailand for allowing them to use the ‘Halal’ logo on their products. Gradually, the certification is gaining acceptability across the world. The committee has assumed a pivotal role in the promotion of halal trade, which is also linked with high hygienic standards.
A member of a Pakistani delegation that recently visited the country to explore the possibility of joint ventures was informed of the strict conditions enforced at factories to keep them free from impurities that are shunned by Islam.
He was also informed that the ‘Halal’ food standard is an integrated system that covers the entire production process. From start to finish, the production chain has to be halal and food production safety systems such as GMP, HACCP, and ISO all conform to the ‘Halal’ food standard.
In their quest for new market outlets in the Middle East and Central Asia, Thai entrepreneurs are looking for joint ventures with Pakistani counterparts.
Prospects for bilateral trade
Thailand and Pakistan are both food producing countries but enjoy distinct terrains and weather conditions – they produce agricultural products that do not necessarily compete and may even complement each other.
With its economic infrastructure and industrial know-how in food production, Thailand could help us break out of the current predicament of being primarily a commodity exporter and move on to become a major exporter of processed foods.
At the ground level, this should mean more trade and joint ventures in food production to complement each other’s needs. The ventures could benefit from Pakistan’s stronger face as a source of Halal food at the international level since the country of manufacture is of paramount importance.
On the other hand, Thailand’s clout among international channels for processed food products could be used to source processed food products (Thai brands) from Pakistan through contract processing/packaging.
At the government level this could translate into collaboration between universities and research institutes.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2010.
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