In Singapore, the statutory body in charge of Islamic affairs is the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis) which looks after the various interests and matters of Islamic affairs in the country including Halal certifications.
When a company sets up shop in Singapore and wants to obtain a Halal certification for products manufactured here, they’ll have to apply with Muis as required under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA).
The thing is, when one pharmaceutical company in Singapore sought Halal certification in 2020 for their products manufactured in Singapore, they ran into a snag.
While Muis appeared to move forward with the process of applying for certification at first, having requested information from the company about the products they want to certify as Halal, the authority seemed to change tact following intervention by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
An MCCY representative told the company in an email that it is a matter of policy that “Muis does not certify non-consumables and pharmaceuticals”.
This itself is a little curious given that Muis has definitely issued Halal certification for non-consumables such as soaps, detergents, various sanitisers as well as disinfectants just last year to a company based in Singapore.
So why the sudden change of policy?
Isn’t Muis ultimately the authority that is responsible for issuing Halal certification in Singapore? So why there a restriction to the kind of products that Muis can certify? And if MCCY says that Muis cannot issue Halal certifications for non-consumable products, who can?
Furthermore, prior to the declining to issue any certification, Muis had asked for the ingredients and their suppliers from the company and its sales volume in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. It did not appear to the company that Muis had a strict policy against certifying non-consumables as claimed by MCCY because if it had, it would have said so at the very first instance.
On a different note, when the company asked if they could apply for certification from a foreign Halal certification body instead for the products that were to be exported, a representative from Muis said that it is illegal for any entity, foreign or local, to issue a Halal certificate in Singapore without authorisation from Muis.
Additionally, since Muis does not certify non-consumable products, it also does not provide authorisation for any foreign Halal certification body to do so, said the representative. No alternative solutions were provided.
So again, if Muis cannot certify non-consumable products—and it is unwilling to authorise a foreign Halal certification body to to undertake such certification—who can? The MCCY representative did not say.
TOC has written to MCCY on 19 Jan for their clarification on this matter and has yet to receive a response.
At the same time, the MCCY representative said that companies interested in securing Halal certification for products to be sold overseas has to obtain the certification from the relevant authority in that respective market.
This it a little bit tricky because looking at the rules from neighbouring countries, products which are not certified as Halal in the country it is manufactured cannot be certified as Halal later after it is exported.
The Singapore-based company was considering approaching Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM) which offers foreign Halal certification for companies outside of Malaysia.
According to the Malaysian government portal on Halal certification:
All imported food and goods marketed in Malaysia shall not be described as Halal unless the imported food and goods comply with the requirements or certified as Halal by the foreign Halal certification body recognized by JAKIM.
This means that if Muis—which Malaysia’s JAKIM recognises as a foreign Halal certification body—does not certify these pharmaceutical products made in Singapore as Halal, those products cannot carry the Halal stamp when exported to and subsequently marketed in Malaysia.
The conditions in Indonesia are even more strict. All items and services exported to Indonesia for their local market has to be Halal certified according to the country’s Halal Product Law.
Foreign companies that want to export products into Indonesia are legally required to be first Halal certified by an agency from their own country. That agency also has to be registered with Indonesia’s Halal Products Certification Agency (BPJPH).
Clearly, not being able to obtain Halal certification for their products would be a significant blow to the company’s ability to penetrate the Islamic market, which is quickly become a major slice of the global economy.
According to market research firm Adroit, the global Halal pharmaceutical market alone is projected to hit about US$174.59 billion (S$233.57 billion) by 2025. It also noted that Asia-Pacific was the largest market for Halal pharmaceuticals in 2018, bringing in a revenue of US$39.90 (S$53.15) billion. Globally, the firm expects that total Muslim consumer spending on pharmaceuticals to surpass US$131 billion (S$174.50) over the next four years till 2025.
In broader terms, Singapore is among the top 15 world economies for the Islamic market, along with neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia which ranked first and fourths respectively according to the State of the Global Islamic Economy 2020/21 report by DinarStandard.
On top of everything else, this entire situation also begs the question of why MCCY was stepping in on the matter of Halal certification which rests clearly in the purview of Muis?
And with these in mind, how will companies that wish to tap into the market for Halal pharmaceuticals or related industry look towards setting up shop here in Singapore?