The fast-growing halal market in the Islamic world and Western countries with sizable Muslim communities has long whetted Turkey’s appetite. Last year, then-Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci grumbled that companies from non-Muslim countries dominated 80% of the $4 trillion global halal market, which ranges from food and cosmetics to health care, tourism and financing. This is “not acceptable,” he said, stressing that Turkey was stepping up efforts to grab a larger share of the market.
Parliament took the first step in November, passing legislation for the creation of a Halal Accreditation Authority. On July 15, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree on how the Halal Accreditation Authority would be established, completing the legal framework for Turkey’s drive to become a leading market player with state-guaranteed halal labels.
The Halal Accreditation Authority will adhere to halal standards set by the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries, a body under the umbrella of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Companies from Turkey and other Muslim countries will be able to apply to the Halal Accreditation Authority for accreditation.
Turkey’s aim is to make the Halal Accreditation Authority the most authoritative body on the issue in the Muslim world. According to Zeybekci, the Halal Accreditation Authority is the world’s first regulatory institution on halal matters, which would add credibility to the halal certificates issued by Halal Accreditation Authority-accredited entities.
Many organizations have been issuing halal certificates in Turkey in recent years, but their standards have been the subject of controversy. Now, the Halal Accreditation Authority will step in to accredit or disqualify such organizations. As the country’s sole institution authorized to provide accreditation services, it will function as a sort of supreme body with a final say on certificates. In other words, the Halal Accreditation Authority’s accreditation will amount to a “letter of credence” for organizations issuing certificates.
The most important question now is who will get “the letters of credence.”
Not all applicants will receive accreditation. One organization expected to get an easy approval is the Food and Supplies Inspection and Certification Research Association, which has been organizing the International Halal and Tayyib Fair since 2010 and issuing certificates called “halal and tayyib certificates.” The Arabic word “tayyib” means healthy, clean and of good quality here, as former Deputy Premier Bulent Arinc pointed out at the 2013 fair for those who might have drawn any association to one of the names of Turkey’s leader. As the biggest organization of its kind in Turkey, the inspection and research organization has issued halal certificates to hundreds of companies.
But is a halal certificate enough to boost sales to Muslim countries?
Trade is certainly not aloof from foreign policy. Good political ties are often the prerequisite for boosting commercial exchanges. A shared religion is hardly enough to drive trade, as evidenced by myriad political and economic conflicts between Muslim countries. This was a point that opposition deputies emphasized during parliamentary debates on the Halal Accreditation Authority bill last year, pointing to Turkey’s tense relations with Muslim countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya. To increase its market shares in the Muslim world, they argued, Turkey has to amend its foreign policy first.
Still, Turkey is expected to increase its share in halal markets given its ardent efforts in the field — especially in Islamic banking, a sector that has significantly expanded since Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002.
According to Yunus Ete, the Turkish chairman of the World Halal Summit Council, Turkey’s share of the global halal market amounts to about $100 billion, including $55 billion in the financial sector, and has the potential to reach $400 billion in a short span of time.
When it comes to Turkey’s own halal food market, demand for the halal label could grow — especially among well-off conservatives as religious tendencies in society increase. Yet Turkey is a country where some 15 million people — a sixth of the population — rely on some form of monthly welfare assistance from the government. The needy are likely to care little about halal-labeled food, as evidenced by Turkey’s recent importation of cheap meat to rein in skyrocketing prices. In criticizing the government’s import strategy, the opposition has argued that the imported meat is not a halal slaughter. Few consumers, however, seem to take notice. The cheap meat on offer at select supermarkets is being sold out within hours.
While products certified as halal are likely to enjoy a certain advantage in the market, government critics have misgivings about how fair and objective the accreditation process will be.
Orhan Saribal, a parliament member for the main opposition Republican People’s Party and an agricultural engineer by profession, told Al-Monitor he had “concerns over political favoritism in the issuance of accreditations.”
Compliance with international standards on food safety and hygiene are more important than halal labels, Saribal argued, adding that he saw political motives behind the establishment of the accreditation agency. The Halal Accreditation Authority “is the product of the government’s policy to mold everything in society according to religious references,” he said. “I don’t think Turkey needs that. There are internationally accepted [mechanisms] on healthy food control and certification. Those are the ones to follow.”
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