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Don't be the forbidden export

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Don't be the forbidden export article image

The world’s Halal food trade is upwards of US$60 billion per year and growing. Make sure you explore the huge market potential of Halal products and the opportunities available for Australian exporters. Most Australians gain their knowledge of Islam through the press. Sadly this knowledge is heavily influenced by events like the attack on Jakarta in July. This bombing, the Bali bombings and 9/11 were horrific, and the press has every right to condemn these actions and the people associated with them. But there is another side to Islam and the people that practise the Islamic teachings. In the 1980s I was privileged to work in Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan: it certainly changed me and has had an enormous influence on my attitude to people of differing religions. My immediate group in Jakarta had four Muslims, one Hindu, three Christians (of differing denominations) and one Buddhist. We all prayed at months end for help in getting the budget and it usually worked; one of us was possibly right. In Pakistan I was completely surrounded by people who practised Islam. Not only did we all get on really well, the common interest in cricket made it an experience I will never forget. Never once did religion come between me and any of my colleagues. We were all just people, we all had a sense of humour, we all had families we loved and we all respected each other’s religious beliefs. And interestingly, many of us have remained friends, 20 years down the road. Islam is not just a religion but also a way of life, so the one thing that was differed was our eating behaviour. Islam encourages its followers to choose Halal foods. Whether it is McDonald’s, or dinner at a fancy restaurant, food in these overseas posts was always prepared to meet the religious teachings of Islam. The word Halal is an Arabic word that simply means ‘permitted, permissible, lawful, allowed’. The opposite of Halal is Haram, which means ‘strictly forbidden or prohibited, unlawful’. To determine the Halal/Haram status of foodstuffs, Islam has laid down general guidelines, namely all raw materials and ingredients used must be Halal, Halal animals such as cattle, goats etc must be slaughtered according to Islamic rites and Halal ingredients must not be mixed, or come into contact with Haram materials such as products from pig or dog during storage, transport, cooking or serving.

Not a niche market

To many Australians, Halal is often regarded as a niche market. This is not so. Today, it is estimated that the world’s Halal food trade is upwards of US$60 billion per year and growing. And it’s not confined to Middle Eastern and South East Asian markets. Halal markets exist wherever there are Muslim consumers; worldwide, there are approximately 1.5 billion practising Islam, many of whom reside in Europe, USA, India and of course in Australia and New Zealand. There is also often a misunderstanding that Halal is simply confined to fresh meat products, but Halal includes processed foods, from salami, through cereal to yoghurt, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, skin care and body care products and many more. Many Muslim consumers too, whether living in Muslim or western countries, have developed a taste of Western style food, prepared in keeping with their Islamic principles and teachings. With the massive growth in middle classes, these populations and their buying power, particularly in places like Indonesia, Malaysia and parts of the Middle East have and will continue to grow enormously. Gone too are the days of Halal products being confined to the wet market. This is a sophisticated business with Halal isles in major supermarkets in all parts of the world and Halal accreditation on some of the world’s most recognised brands. This provides Australian exporters, particularly food exporters, with an opportunity to participate in a large, growing market. Australia is well placed, not only geographically close to Indonesia and Malaysia, but our clean and professional growing and production practices and our access to the various Halal accreditation bodies opens the door to a wide range of potential export destinations. While many argue that the services sector is the way ahead, agriculture and food processing will always be a strong participant in Australia’s export regime. Opportunities like Halal are natural for Australia and one I encourage our food exporters to look at closely. And while food may be the core opportunity, Halal goes well beyond this sector into toiletries, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, and even into many of raw and production materials that go into the processing of Halal accredited products. -Ian Murray is the executive director of the Australian Institute of Export

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