At Dubai expo, Chinese companies look to tap lucrative halal market

Exhibitors and visitors attending the Halal Expo, on Sept 18, 2017, in Dubai.
Exhibitors and visitors attending the Halal Expo, on Sept 18, 2017, in Dubai.PHOTO: AFP

DUBAI (AFP) - Standing behind her stall at a Dubai exhibition centre, Ms Dai Donghe offered passersby what looked like carefully wrapped biscuits or chocolates.

"This is dry beef, beef snacks," said Ms Dai, general manager of Anhui Central Asia Food, one of eight Chinese companies from Anhui province displaying products at Halal Expo Dubai 2017.

Dubai is hosting the show for the ninth year running, with the Gulf emirate positioning itself as a major hub for the halal industry, a booming US$3 trillion (S$4 trillion) market for goods and services that are permissible under Islamic law.

In recent years, Chinese firms have increasingly looked to tap the market, with organisers of the two-day show saying the Chinese halal sector is forecast to hit US$1.9 trillion by 2021, an average growth rate of nine percent from its 2015 level.

Exhibitors from China said one of the keys to gaining a foothold in the market was winning the trust of consumers.

"We make sure our food is halal," Ms Dai told AFP, noting that the company buys meat from Chinese Muslims to ensure slaughtering is done according to Islamic tradition.

Mr Nicholas Hsiu, a manager with ARA Halal Development Service Centre, said the show was an opportunity to promote the company's exports.

"We want to export to Muslim countries... We hope to introduce our products and export to the United Arab Emirates and the Middle East," he told AFP.

The company manufactures various types of halal noodles and has obtained certificates from recognised Islamic accreditation bodies in Hong Kong and elsewhere, Mr Hsiu said.

Seventy-five exhibitors from 15 countries, including Malaysia, the global leader in halal exports, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Switzerland and others took part in the show.

The industry encompasses food, beverages, fashion, cosmetics, tourism, and the US$2 trillion Islamic financial industry. For food products, the key is ensuring no traces of pork or alcohol, which are strictly banned by Islamic teachings.

Exhibitors from Malaysia displayed a wide-range of cosmetics, beauty care products and agricultural seeds that one firm claimed "are better than Viagra".

Mountain honey processed to conform with Islamic requirements was displayed by one Pakistani firm, while exhibitors from Kazakhstan presented various types of chocolates.

Standing at a stall packed with natural cosmetics, Ms Nur Syarifatun Nadzirah, the managing director of Gaveno Green Resources in Malaysia, said the company ensured its products comply with halal rules.

"We make sure that all the ingredients are halal... We have certification" from well-established Malaysian bodies, she told AFP.

Dubai, which unlike its oil-rich Gulf neighbours has a highly diversified economy, has been vying to become the global hub for the halal industry.

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a component, imports about US$20 billion in halal products every year, part of the some US$50 billion imported annually by the six Gulf Cooperation Council states.

As well as holding conferences and exhibits, Dubai is establishing standardisation bodies like the Emirates International Accreditation Centre.

The centre is one of several international organisations that set guidelines and issue certificates for products that conform to Islamic rules.

The initiative is part of efforts "for Dubai to become the capital of the Islamic economy", Ms Amina Ahmed Mohammed, the centre's chief executive officer, told AFP.

The emirate is also looking to overcome one of the main challenges facing the industry - different and sometimes conflicting standards and requirements depending on interpretations of religious texts.

"The UAE has launched an international forum for the accreditation of halal organisations... in a bid to unify procedures around the world," Ms Amina said.