Bos­nian busi­nesses go halal to serve Gulf vis­i­tors, eye ex­ports

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

SARA­JEVO: Bos­nian banks, food pro­duc­ers and hote­liers are adopt­ing halal stan­dards to tap a fast-grow­ing mar­ket thanks to the coun­try’s large Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion, an in­flux of Gulf tourists and grow­ing trade with the Arab world. Bos­nia has one of Europe’s largest in­dige­nous Mus­lim pop­u­la­tions, tra­di­tion­ally lib­eral in its in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam, but the ar­rival of Arab fight­ers dur­ing the 1992-95 war and an in­flux of Saudi money has spurred an Is­lamic re­vival.

The coun­try, half of whose pop­u­la­tion is Mus­lim, has be­come a re­gional hub for halal prod­ucts since it set up Europe’s first agency for halal qual­ity cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in 2006. “Mar­ket po­ten­tial is high be­cause the phe­nom­e­non is new and there is a gap be­tween de­mand and sup­ply,” said agency head Amir Sa­kic, adding the halal mar­ket in the Balkans had grown by about 17 per­cent each year over the past decade.

The agency has cer­ti­fied thou­sands of prod­ucts from Bos­nia, Ser­bia, Mon­tene­gro and Lithua­nia and helped Croa­tia, Ser­bia and Mace­do­nia to es­tab­lish their own halal qual­ity agen­cies.

The halal mar­ket was worth more than $1 tril­lion in 2015, ac­cord­ing to Deloitte Tohmatsu Con­sult­ing, and grow­ing by about 15 per­cent a year. Halal cer­ti­fi­ca­tion con­firms that a prod­uct was man­u­fac­tured in keep­ing with Is­lam’s Sharia law. It must not con­tain traces of pork, al­co­hol or blood, and must be made on fac­tory lines free of con­tam­i­na­tion risk, in­clud­ing from clean­ing. “At Klas, all prod­ucts are halal,” said Vasvija Poljo, qual­ity man­ager at Sara­jevobased food pro­ducer Klas, ex­plain­ing that peo­ple of­ten con­fuse halal prod­ucts with prod­ucts that lack pork con­tent.

“It’s much more - it re­quires that all raw ma­te­ri­als must also be cleared of pes­ti­cides, heavy me­tals, GMO, an­tibi­otics and other ele­ments that have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on our health.” The Gulf-owned Bosna Bank In­ter­na­tional (BBI), Bos­nia’s only bank op­er­at­ing on Is­lamic prin­ci­ples, helps ex­ports with its 550 mil­lion marka-strong ($300 mil­lion) port­fo­lio of halal projects. “The halal in­dus­try is a cor­ri­dor to the Is­lamic world be­cause the largest in­vest­ments to­day come from that part of the world,” said Amer Bukvic, the di­rec­tor of the BBI, which to­gether with the Sara­jevo Stock Ex­change (SASE) launched the Balkans’ first Is­lamic share in­dex of listed firms in Oc­to­ber.

Gulf in­vestors have bought large swathes of agri­cul­tural land and food-pro­duc­ing com­pa­nies in Ser­bia and Bos­nia to help ad­dress weak­nesses in the sup­ply chain of halal in­gre­di­ents. “The first thing that vis­i­tors from the Arab world look at is if there is a halal cer­tifi­cate,” said Saljo Mrkulic, an owner of two large ho­tels in Sara­jevo. “It is ex­pen­sive to main­tain the cer­tifi­cate - or­ganic food is more ex­pen­sive - but in the end it pays back. You get more guests.”

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