he Halal economy is big and is getting even bigger. A young and growing population, currently accounting for almost a quarter of humanity and increasing, is driving demand for things Halal.
In its State of Global Islamic Economy Report 2018/19, Thomson Reuters estimates that across lifestyle sectors, the Halal market will surpass US$3 trillion in 2023, from US$2.1 trillion in 2017. Food and beverage leads Muslim spend by category followed by fashion, media and recreation, travel, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
For businesses, this is an opportunity too good to miss. Companies and countries are priming themselves to have a slice of this expanding pie.
Singapore Raises Its Ante
A food obsessed country, Singapore is drawn by the glowing prospects for Halal food and beverage, which is projected to hit US$1.9 trillion in 2023 (US$1.3 trillion in 2017). Singapore has a heads up in this sector as it has a well established certification system, recognised by its immediate neighbours Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as major trading partners, UAE, Australia, Europe and the United States.
In the absence of international standards, certification from a recognised authority is key to product acceptance in the Halal market. Developed in 1978, the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) MUIS Halal certificate is possibly the first Halal certification system in the world.
Since then the standards have been updated to keep pace with industry changes. The first major upgrade was in 2007-2008. From a manual system in the early years, it was computerised. Developed in house, the MUIS eHalal System (MeS) manages the entire certification process from end-to-end, making application approval faster and easier as compared to the manual process then.
In 2016, MUIS phased a revised set of requirements called the MUIS Halal Certification Conditions (HCC), it encompasses seven types of certification schemes spanning across the food chain, from products and eating premises to central kitchens, factories and poultry abattoirs and is aligned with the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP). This ensures that companies meet the requirements for food safety as well as Halal concurrently. This version of the HCC is more reader friendly and transparent.
In December 2018, MUIS attained the ISO 17065, an international standard on conformity assessment for bodies certifying products, process and services, the first certifying body in ASEAN to be accredited. “The accreditation puts us on a different platform. It serves as an endorsement that our processes follow a certain set of standard,” said Munir Hussain, Assistant Director, Halal Certification Strategic Unit, MUIS.
MUIS has also received accreditation by Gulf Accreditation Center (GAC) to United Arab Emirates (UAE) Halal standards GSO-2055-2. The value of UAE’s recognition extends beyond the country’s borders as its main port Jebel Ali is a key trade and logistics transhipment hub for the wider Middle East.
The number of certificates issued by MUIS has gained year on year. On average it has grown by 57% in the last five years, and for product and whole plant schemes, the number of products certified have doubled.
Continuing Effort to Streamline Processes
Process improvement is being made to align the MUIS system with Singapore Inc and make quantitative improvements to its expanding client base. In 2018, MeS 3.0 was introduced to replace MeS 2.0. Hosted by LicenceOne, the one-stop licensing portal which helps businesses apply for all Singapore government licences, MeS 3.0 is a cut above its predecessor. It improves productivity by eliminating pain points such as manual or repetitive entry of information, facilitates submission of application with more user-friendly interface, eliminates several paper document submissions and enhances security by using SingPass or CorpPass and support online payments.
The government is continuing to push ahead on its digitisation journey, to tap technology to provide better and faster public services at a fraction of the cost. Under the new approach spearheaded by Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), a central system can be created instead of each agency having its own online licensing processes or Web forms. Forms can also be pre-filled with information so that users will not have to repeatedly give it to different agencies.
Slated to go live in 2020, it will eventually replace LicenceOne. MUIS will embark on this system gradually, beginning with two schemes, namely eating establishment and food preparation.
While MUIS is working with Govtech and LicenceOne, concurrently MUIS is also working on building an enterprise system to replace its current backend database. The procurement process for the vendor will begin shortly in the later part of Q3 2019. This backend enterprise system will simplify and automate several processes and help integrate the audit reports, payment system and several other functions.
MUIS is looking at how it can harness technological advancement to help companies overcome some of the pain points. Top of the list is food traceability. MUIS is working with consultants to see how blockchain, a distributed ledger which was originally devised for the digital currency, Bitcoin, can be used to enhance traceability. Together with mobile apps and QR codes (quick response codes), it may be possible someday soon just to scan a QR code with a mobile phone, and voila, all the product information will be made available, providing unmatched transparency.
Also on the cards is a database of suppliers which have been accredited. This will help cut down time required for product sourcing and verification
To improve day-to-day operation for businesses, MUIS has introduced:
Raising Industry Profile
- Auto renewal for certificates to prevent business disruptions caused by an oversight. The duration of the certificates may also be increased to three years, instead of one or two today, and
- Courier delivery of certificates to save customers time. As part of the move to go cashless, payments will only be accepted online, through Interbank transfers, GIRO or credit cards.
A Muslim minority country, Singapore has punched above its size in the international Islamic community. It has retained top spot in Mastercard-Crescent Rating Global Muslim Travel Index’s as a Halal-friendly destination for non-Organization of Islamic Cooperation countries.
In the annual State of Global Islamic Economy Report, Singapore is amongst the leading countries in selected fields. In the 2018/19 report, it was ranked third for modest fashion, second for media and recreation and third for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
To bring the community together and enhance its standing internationally, MUIS is working with the Singapore Food Agency and Enterprise Singapore to launch Singapore Halal week in October 2019. Said Mr Munir, “It’s something we want to do for the local industry. We want to bring the industry together, share best practices through talks and trade shows. In the past years we had engagement sessions to help the industry to understand the challenges. This is more formal.”