Photo: The Thailand country booth at the Malaysia International Halal Showcase (MIHAS) 2019 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Apr 3, 2019. SALAAM GATEWAY/Emmy Abdul Alim

Halal Industry

Thailand eyeing more halal food exports to non-Muslim countries

KUALA LUMPUR - Thailand wants to improve its branding to accelerate its halal exports to non-Muslim-majority countries as its reach to Islamic markets continues to grow steadily.

Minister Counsellor of the Office of Commercial Affairs of the Royal Thai Embassy in Malaysia, Patcha Wutipan said the country's halal businesses are struggling to stand out in non-Muslim markets.

“The campaign to promote Thailand as the “Kitchen of the World” may outshine the image of Thailand as a halal food producer, however, we could probably say that we are selling but with more recognition we will be able to sell more,” Wutipan told Salaam Gateway during the Malaysia International Halal Showcase (MIHAS) 2019 last month.

Thailand wants to leverage its growing food trade to non-Muslim countries and Wutipan believes its halal products could do a lot better in those markets if they were better known.

Thailand exported $35.7 billion of food in 2018, according to Wutipan citing data from the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP).

16 percent, or around $5.8 billion, were shipped to member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

This was up 2 percent from 2017, a figure that is much lower than the 6 percent growth in food exports to non-Muslim countries.

This 2 percent rise in 2018 was a plunge from 2017’s growth, which stood at around 13 percent. In the same year, food exports to non-Muslim countries rose 10 percent.

Wutipan attributes the huge fluctuation to the increase in the price of Thai rice, coupled with the depreciation of the baht against the U.S. dollar.

There are around 5,000 companies involved in Thailand’s halal industry, producing over 150,000 halal products and services.

Thai halal products may not fly off the shelves in non-Muslim-majority countries but they do well in Muslim markets, according to Wutipan, the plunge in growth in 2018 notwithstanding.

The Southeast Asian nation is making an effort to actively promote its products through international exhibitions such as MIHAS and others held in the Middle East.

“We always participate in Gulfood exhibition in Dubai, UAE.  The country is considered our target market since it is a strategic trading center and logistics hub of the Gulf countries,” added Wutipan. Other Middle Eastern export destinations include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar.

"Aside from this, we are looking forward to having long-term business partnerships with several companies in Africa and the Middle East.

"The effort could also include partnerships in many parts of the supply chain such as manufacturing, branding and retailing," said Wutipan.

40 Thai companies participated in the 16th edition of MIHAS this year, compared to 33 last year.

“We could see an increasing number of Thai exhibitors because the Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP) under the Ministry of Commerce of Thailand together with Office of SME Promotion of Thailand brought more Thai SMEs to MIHAS,” Wutipan said.

Thailand’s halal products are certified by The Central Islamic Committee of Thailand (Cicot). Cicot’s certifications are already recognized by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM), the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI).  In the UAE, Wutipan said Thailand’s halal certification is accepted for processed and packaged food.

Most of these products are from the food and beverages sector, but wellness, personal care, and cosmetics are also making gains in both Thailand’s domestic and export markets.

In addition, Wutipan said Thailand is looking to tap into the medical tourism sector at home to expand its halal industry.

“Thailand has a growing number of Muslim visitors coming for medical services in hospitals in Bangkok and they usually bring their families to stay.

"We are looking to supply the said sector with halal products and services to meet the demands, and also to encourage more Muslim visitors," said Wutipan.

38.2 million international visitors arrived in Thailand last year. As an indication of Muslim visitor numbers, halal travel consultants CrescentRating estimated 3.6 million Muslims arrived in 2017, around 10 percent of that year’s total visitor numbers.

(Reporting by Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim

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