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With growing number of Muslim and non-Muslim consumers in the global market who perceive halal as a benchmark for quality, clean and healthy standards, the Philippines stands to gain, as it positions itself to be one of the major halal-certified players in the Asean region and in the world.

?PHILIPPINE manufacturing standards have become competitive following the increase in demand on compliance with prescribed international market standards and requirements. Likewise, we have seen new technologies being employed by Philippine companies in their production process, using the state-of-the-art technology in the manufacture of goods, as well as in the delivery of services.

These capabilities could be evidently seen in the racks of major supermarkets abroad in halal markets of processed food, which now fares very well even if they go side by side with known international brands. ?They include food products, such as dried fruits, snack food, bread, pastries, sauces, condiments and jams.

We have seen these improvements through the deliberate approach of the private sector in adhering to sound manufacturing principles and adherence to globally accepted product standards. ?In support are the government initiatives that enable the halal manufacturers to grow, which include capacity building, marketing support and the National Quality Infrastructure (NQI), among other programs, to address market access, trade facilitation, product safety and quality, innovation, competitiveness and tool for public policy as identified growth drivers.

The Export Marketing Bureau (EMB) of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), for one, actively advocates for the NQI as part of the ongoing process to develop Philippine export capabilities to gain better access in relevant markets under the strategic components of the Philippine Export Development Plan (PEDP) 2015-2017.

Another support mechanism in EMB is the Regional Information Platform for Philippine Exportys or RIPPLES Plus Program being implemented together with the Regional Operations Group of the DTI, which currently seeks to grow micro, small and medium enterprises across the country to make them export ready, using specific interventions relevant to their needs and identified as necessary for them to grow and become competitive in the international market.

?The focus now is not only to export to Filipinos abroad but already to take on the mainstream market. ?And when you talk about the market opportunities under halal, we need to make sure companies and products are fully halal-certified and compliant,? DTI-EMB Director Senen M. Perlada said.

In addition, ?As part of the PEDP?s integrated approach, halal-certifying bodies are now being identified to grow their capabilities to certify and have them recognized by more relevant halal bodies abroad. This will, in turn, allow them to certify Philippine companies and their products to gain access in these markets through conformity and mutual recognition of standards.?

Intellectual property protection

ASIDE from compliance with standards, Philippine exporters need to be aware about the strict labeling requirements in halal markets. Packaging, branding and promotional strategies matter in the strictest sense so that they will not contradict cultural and religious norms in Islam.

Intellectual property protection is a primary consideration. ?This is to protect Philippine brands from imitations that, aside from the disruptive element of going below market prices, places at risk the integrity and reputation of Philippine products.

Philippine products are already being imitated due to strong consumer demand, especially in the Middle East. ?Alleged fake products predominantly reported include condiments and personal-care products. The willingness of the private sector is called for, as according to buyers in Saudi, they are helpless without the support of complaint or legal action from the Philippine companies themselves. ?We believe in the potentials of the Philippine products to go mainstream, and we need to pursue the protection of these products through the active participation of the manufacturers themselves,? they said.

The drive to inform the stakeholders of this reality has been initiated through focused group discussions and a technical working group. Information sessions under the DTI-EMB have brought forth productive discussions. Currently, the EMB is preparing to initiate more in-depth discussions with the authorities from various markets to determine ways whereby our Philippine products will receive better protection, as well as compliance. ?They include the Saudi Standards, Quality and Metrology Organization, Saudi Food and Drug Authority, Emirates Authority For Standardization and Metrology, Indonesian Council of Ulama and Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia.

To be concluded

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?Anthony B. Rivera?is the Assistant Director, Export Marketing Bureau, Department of Trade and Industry.

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