Govt cooks up 'Halal corridor'

Govt cooks up 'Halal corridor'

Hunt starts for investors in new southern border moneymaker

Halal push: Rear Adm Somkiat Ponprayoon talks to Jojie Samuel, the Malaysian Ambassador, at Chai Charoen Company Limited, a seafood manufacturer, in the Pattani Industrial Estate.
Halal push: Rear Adm Somkiat Ponprayoon talks to Jojie Samuel, the Malaysian Ambassador, at Chai Charoen Company Limited, a seafood manufacturer, in the Pattani Industrial Estate.

The government's Halal Economic Corridor (HEC) would help improve Thai livelihoods in the deep South, says a senior state official who is responsible for the project in the area.

Rear Adm Somkiat Ponprayoon, secretary-general of the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC), said the project is helping turn Thailand into a world hub for halal goods. The government is also hoping it will help revive the economy and improve locals' livelihoods.

Rear Adm Somkiat was speaking to a group of ambassadors and envoys from 11 Islamic countries during a recent trip to the far South of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat and his office in Yala to learn about security, Thai culture and development work in the area. The trip was organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Economic corridor opens

He also told the Bangkok Post that the government is fashioning the four southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Satun and four districts of Songkhla -- Na Thawi, Saba Yoi, Chana and Thepa -- into the HEC.

Products and services from these areas will have to conform to the principles of Islam. That's why the government chose these southern border provinces to be the hub.

"They are considered the most suitable products with which to promote a new corridor as this place has long been historically connected to the Arab World through trade and it was a transit point for Chinese traders.

"More importantly, 80% of the population are Thai-Muslim, so they know how to practise Halal by nature,'' he said.

Rear Adm Somkiat said there are some 1.6 billion Muslims in the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and that population number is expected to reach 2 billion in the future.

"So promoting these areas as a halal economic corridor to connect the world will help develop the local economy and improve the lot of local people," he said.

The southern border provinces have long been a stronghold for manufacturing processed seafood. Everything has already been halal-certified and exported to Europe and the Middle East.

He said his office is encouraging locals to produce halal meat (beef, chicken and goat) to be exported to the Islamic world. Currently, there are about 10,000 farmers across the five provinces who have joined the campaign.

Partners include the Livestock Department, National Farmer Councils and various cow breeding associations.

Halal-friendly tourism and wellness

Apart from the promotion of halal meat production in the region, the SBPAC encourages locals to practise halal tourism and wellness to prepare for tourists from Muslim countries.

Many hospitals and hotels starting to practise halal, including Prince of Songkla University, Pattani campus, which has been researching how to make halal spas to serve Muslim tourists.

The SBPAC also has been working with local universities that are keen on halal and Islamic knowledge such as the Prince of Songkla University Halal Institute, Fatoni University in Pattani and Rajabhat University Yala, along with other universities outside the southern border region such as the Halal Institute of Chulalongkorn University to educate people about halal knowledge.

He said these institutions have played a crucial role in educating people and giving confidence to Muslim investors that halal products made from these entrepreneurs are safe to eat according to their religious principles.

He said that these investors do not come to invest simply because these places have halal symbols, but they will come and look at the process -- from farm gate to delivery -- to ensure safety under Islamic principles.

"So, entrepreneurs must be knowledgeable in halal to ensure consumer safety. A halal economic corridor must have many components such as knowledge and certificates in the production process to ensure everything is right," Rear Adm Somkiat added.

Halal certification

He said halal food and service entrepreneurs could obtain halal certification through two agencies. They are the Central Islamic Council of Thailand (CICOT) and Provincial Islamic Council (PIC) in these five southern border provinces.

It was also important to bridge the corridor with foreigners from various places. He has held discussions with halal investors from Asean and the Middle East especially Saudi Arabia who are interested in investing in the project.

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