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It is rare to find a career civil servant, one who has spent a lifetime officiating in the bone-dry world of standards and regulations, voicing a desire for the wholesale simplification of global processes, but the chairman of Turkey’s Halal Accreditation Agency (HAK) harbours hopes for widespread reform of this most taxing and intransigent of bureaucracies.
Zafer Soylu, who assumed the role this year following years developing and implementing standardisation and regulation at Turkey’s Ministry of Trade, said he “dreams” one day that all Muslim manufacturers and exporters around the world may be able to call on one common halal rulebook.
With HAK, Turkey can play a central role in making this happen, believes Soylu, despite the vast complexities inherent in finding a way to unite all accreditation and certification bodies.
“Shouldn’t a product travel all around the Muslim world with one halal document? I sincerely believe this is not a dream, it is an achievable goal,” the former director general of the General Directorate of Product Safety and Inspection told Salaam Gateway.
“Let’s be aware of that and put in our best efforts to realise this. If we stand united, it would create a win-win situation for all interested parties.”
HAK was established as an autonomous public agency under the Turkish trade ministry in 2017 “to put forward an institution whereby stakeholders have a voice and a place,” Soylu said.
Its goal is to set broad-based and technically solid halal accreditation that adheres to rules laid down by the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries (SMIIC), in collaboration with member nations of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) as well as non-Muslim countries.
Established in 2010 and based in Istanbul, SMIIC’s main objective is to remove technical barriers to trade and provide a basis to develop technical cooperation in the Muslim world, especially in the field of halal. At present, SMIIC has 38 members, three of which are observers, and this number is expected to grow considerably in coming years.
In 2011, SMIIC adopted standards on halal food, certification and accreditation which were seen as milestones for a reliable halal certification system, said Soylu.
HAK sees its loyalty to SMIIC’s framework and close links to OIC to realise its wider aim to harmonise accreditation as being the successful approach, beyond relying on two other initiatives that are attempting to achieve this.
HALAL HARMONISATION EFFORTS: SMIIC, IHAF, IHAB
In 2016, the Dubai-headquartered International Halal Accreditation Forum (IHAF) set out to deliver greater engagement between what has become a roster of 31 members across six continents.
Then earlier this year Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) established its own world body to unify halal standards, the International Halal Authority Board (IHAB), through which it aims to bring "all certification bodies… under one platform, towards the harmonisation of halal standards”.
“I believe that in particular SMIIC, and in general OIC, would constitute a more proper forum in which all those main actors are represented as institutions gain more and more importance in today’s world,” said Soylu.
“Unfortunately, a common scheme has still not been established for halal certification. Certification of products and services and accreditation procedures of conformity assessment bodies are better to be done in accordance with international trade rules while at the same time, looking after Muslims’ interests,” Soylu added.
Unification is essential not only to cut through mountains of red tape when certifying products for export to countries with different requirements, it will also cut the cost of certification.
At present, Islamic countries set regulations individually or in coordination with like-minded groups.
Where there is no mutual recognition, for example, there may be situations in which more than one halal compliance certification might be needed for a single product. Smoothing this out will lead to strong economic advantages, Soylu believes.
“Such a duplicative service costs money, time and labour. For this reason, the main purpose of the OIC is to increase economic cooperation and solidarity among Muslims in order to overcome those hurdles,” he said.
“To achieve these goals, SMIIC aims to facilitate trade by the implementation of harmonised standards and technical regulations across the Islamic world. The implementation of these and the establishment of a common certification and accreditation system as an economic activity will contribute to the creation of jobs for Muslims,” said Soylu.
The halal certification industry not only covers the ingredients, food and beverages sectors but those touching many other points on the global value chain, from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to logistics.
The bigger “halal lifestyle” has been gaining momentum worldwide due to its recognition as an alternative benchmark for safety, hygiene and quality assurance for everyday products, said Soylu.
It is therefore not possible to distinguish the concept of halal as having either an internal value for Muslims or external issue for its wider consumer base.
NEED FOR HALAL AUTHORITY IN TURKEY
In Turkey, where halal certification is not mandatory, halal is being positioned as a natural, hygienic and healthy concept in tandem with religious preferences.
Global consumer awareness of halal certification is growing by the day, prompting HAK to declare that ensuring the credibility of halal certification and feeding this growing awareness as its top priorities.
“In this respect, we feel the spiritual burden of this responsibility on our shoulders,” said Soylu.
“We see the concept of halal as an indispensable combination of Islamic priorities and religious concerns and the highest contemporary international standards.
“Indeed, the solution [to unifying halal] is very simple: a common halal standard and a harmonised certification system are needed to ease all doubts in the mind of consumers and national authorities,” he added.
MULTILATERAL RECOGNITION AGREEMENTS
To arrive at a common halal standard and a harmonised certification system, setting up an accreditation system through multilateral recognition agreements (MLAs) will provide equal right for all national bodies among SMIIC members—an approach HAK firmly supports.
Last year, SMIIC revised its statute to allow the establishment of a multilateral accreditation system through MLAs, otherwise known as agreements between SMIIC accreditation council members whereby the signatories recognise and accept the equivalence of the accreditation systems operated by signatory members, as well as the reliability of the conformity assessment results provided by dedicated member bodies.
“Therefore MLAs will ensure mutual recognition of accredited bodies among signatories to an MLA, and acceptance of accredited certification in global markets,” Soylu said.
“As a result, the halal accreditation system would enable halal products to move freely on a global scale. With the effect of such an accreditation scheme, halal trade may receive a boost even beyond expectations in a near future,” he added.
“As I have expressed many times, if we can establish a harmonised and common accreditation system in the world, it would be a milestone for eliminating technical barriers that the concept of the halal lifestyle faces.”
(Reporting by Richard Whitehead; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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