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September 29, 2011

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China expands export of halal foods

THE Silk Road was once a dynamic set of trade links connecting Asia, Europe and parts of Africa. Now, the ancient routes may be given new life as Chinese Muslim businessmen follow their ancestors' footsteps to export halal food to the world.

Halal food is consumed not only by 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, but also by at least 500 million non-Muslims, said Sha Pengcheng, honorary director of China Islamic Research Center, at the recent China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum.

However, China's halal food exports only account for a meager percentage of the world's total, indicating that China's halal food industry is far from competitive in the world market, says Sha, who is also chairman of the Xi'an Muslim Enterprise Chamber of Commerce in Shaanxi Province.

Halal food is the food that is permitted under Muslim dietary laws; some foods like pork and blood are haraam, or forbidden. Halal meat must be slaughtered in a certain way.

"China's halal food exports have stood at US$100 million each year as against the world's total of over US$500 billion," said Sha, who attended a Muslim entrepreneurs' summit on the sideline of the forum in Yinchuan, capital of northwest Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

"On the other hand, it means that there is much room for Chinese halal food industry to tap the world market," he added.

The 2nd Sino-Arab forum held in Ningxia with a fair has created a platform for Chinese enterprises selling Muslim commodities and halal food to showcase their products to the world.

Yinchuan-based Yijia Shenghe Muslim Food Co is one such local enterprise looking for marketing and potential trade partners.

The company has rented a 36-square-meter booth for 20,000 yuan (US$3,125) to showcase its various food products, ranging from youxiang, a traditional oil-fried snack made of flour, sugar and eggs, to sanzi, a flour-made pastry.

"Although our company is small at this beginning stage, our business is growing fast and I hope we can enter the Arabian markets in the near future," says President Ma Xiaogang, a 35-year-old military veteran-turned-businessman.

But the forerunner companies have already gained access to the huge market in Muslim-populated countries. At the China-Eurasia Expo held early this month in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, local businessman Ablajan received two orders from Turkey and Malaysia for 3.6 million pieces of nang, a kind of popular pancake as staple food for Xinjiang's Muslims. His company will soon have the capacity to make 60,000 pieces of nang a day, which can be shipped to overseas markets with a six-month sell-by period.

Ningxia, home to about 10 percent of the country's 20 million Muslims, served as a place of exchange for Chinese and Arabian cultures in ancient times, functioning as a bridge for trade between China and Arabian nations.

Nowadays, foreign businessmen focus on Ningxia on the ancient Silk Road as a ready way to access a much larger market.

"The markets of Ningxia and the neighboring provinces like Shaanxi and Gansu and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region not only cater for foreign exporters of halal food but also the foreign importers buying the halal food from China," says Mohamad Hamid, chairman of the Malaysia-based food company Mosh Sdn Bhd.

Halal (meaning lawful or permitted) food as a concept stems basically from the tradition of obligatory compliance with Islamic requirements on the correct choices of food, methods of preparation and slaughter of animals. However, there are different interpretations for halal food among Muslims, and it is becoming an obstacle to the halal food business, Hamid says.

To solve this problem, China is trying to bring its halal food certification up to world standard for wider acceptance.

The Halal Food Certification Center in Ningxia signed agreements at the forum with its counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar to grant mutual recognition to their certifications.

Ningxia had already signed similar agreements with Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia.

Wang Shengqun, director of the Ningxia certification center, says such mutual recognition is beneficial for Ningxia's halal food exports and will bolster the industry.


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