Photo: New Zealand flags fly in front of government buildings in Wellington, New Zealand on October 2, 2018. Brian S/Shutterstock

Halal Industry

New Zealand government moves into halal certification after one of its companies acquires a CB

A food assurance company owned by New Zealand’s government sought the blessing of industry bodies  before it acquired a majority stake in a halal certification body (CB) last month.

Auckland-based AsureQuality acquired an 80% share of New Zealand Islamic Development Trust (NZIDT), which is also registered in the city, in a move intended to expand on the state-linked enterprise’s halal training services into certification.

“We actively engaged with the key industry bodies [whose members] require halal certification during the acquisition. Now we are continuing to engage with those stakeholders,” AsureQualitys chief executive, John McKay, told Salaam Gateway.

“We have also engaged with the appropriate authorities in the key Muslim export markets to ensure that, as we went through this acquisition, it did not affect NZIDTs existing [halal] recognition and approvals. That engagement will be ongoing too.”

The acquisition by a government-owned company of a business whose work is aligned to religion might raise eyebrows in secular New Zealand, where faith and state are kept apart.

McKay asserts AsureQuality’s acquisition of New Zealand Islamic Development Trust did not raise any objections under this convention.

“Our desire is just to make sure that we continue to build the strength and robustness of certification services to New Zealand exporters,” he said.

“The response has been very positive. It’s important to note that the New Zealand government, and specifically the Ministry of Primary Industries, has had involvement in halal certification for many years with the halal export assurance system,” he added.

Asked about the propriety of the NZIDT acquisition, the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists, which represents the non-religious, told Salaam Gateway it doubted it raised any legal questions.

“The NZIDT mission is not to promote religion. It is not a charity or an association, but rather a for-profit company that certifies that meat is prepared according to halal practices,” the association said in a statement, adding that AsureQuality also operates as a commercial entity, despite its parent.

New Zealand has been seeing continuing growth in halal exports, while a framework for halal certification has been evolving since 2010, when officials used the idea to take the sting out of a series of trade spats with Malaysia and Indonesia over halal exports.

In December 2019, an animal products notice from the Ministry of Primary Industries listing general requirements for fresh and processed meat was published. With this, New Zealand appears to be making a strong play for Muslim markets.

New Zealand exported some 956,808 tonnes of meat in the year to September 2019. The country’s Meat Industry Association says around 46% of meat exports were halal-certified.

Four-fifths of the halal-certified exports were bought by consumers in non-Muslim majority countries around the globe. China alone accounted for 325,000 tonnes of Kiwi halal-certified meat last year, or 71% of its total export shipments to 62 countries, according to the association.

This is a far cry from 2003, when 77% of all halal meat exports from New Zealand were sold to Muslim-majority countries.

This substantial halal market persuaded AsureQuality to look seriously at an overture by the owners of NZIDT, said McKay.

“Because we were already involved, providing training services, we saw it as a logical extension and we recognised an opportunity with a growing demand for halal products around the world from New Zealand food companies and primary producers.

"Ultimately it is about taking the things NZIDT were already good at doing, in terms of halal auditing and inspection, and the skills AsureQuality has around the overall compliance requirement. Putting those together we are sure we will be able to provide an even more robust service in New Zealand,” McKay added.

Under the deal, NZIDT chief executive Taoufik Elidrissi will retain 20% of the business. The company will continue to operate as a standalone business, managed and run by Muslims, and retain all of its staff.

“Having their support will enable us to leverage the combined strengths of both organisations to ensure the ongoing delivery of robust halal auditing and certification services to key food industry sectors in New Zealand,” Elidrissi said in a statement.

(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim [email protected])

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Richard Whitehead