New Zealand exporters need to realise there is far more to the global halal economy than just food, with other major sectors ripe for the picking, says the New Zealand Asia Institute.
While food is definitely top of the halal agenda for Kiwi businesses, exports like halal-certified beef are only part of the picture, says the Institute, which is part of the University of Auckland Business School.
The opportunities presented by a booming US$2.3 trillion global halal market are the focus of the Business School's inaugural Asia Dialogue conference in two weeks.
Kiwi businesses are concentrating too much on food exports and ignoring other avenues worth billions of dollars, such as in IT products, finance services, travel, and tourism, says Business School Dean Professor Greg Whittred.
"It is important that halal is recognised as more than just a commodities-based economy but validated as a much larger and broader entity that includes lifestyle, culture and politics," says Whittred.
International Business lecturer Zaidah Mustaffa says according to Islam, halal means 'what is permissible' or 'what is allowed'.
In the Islamic finance sector, there is no concept of interest being applied to loans. Instead, businesses make profit-sharing agreements, she said.
"In terms of investment, ideally banks or investment companies should be investing in products that are good for the economy."
Investing in casinos or alcohol companies is a "no-no", Mustaffa says.
Halal tourist packages would offer visitors the chance to see New Zealand while also being allowed to visit mosques, pray or eat at restaurants serving halal food, she said.
New Zealand's largest halal exports are lamb, beef, dairy products and financial services concentrated in China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.
However, markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and Kazakhstan are under-utilised and could unlock billions of dollars of future trade, says Whittaker.
Southeast and South Asia have high proportions of Muslim citizens which are expected to increase to more than 30 per cent in the next decade, he says.
"New Zealand needs to urgently recognise the implications of being a neighbour of Southeast and South Asia, and to understand the growing networks of trade, investment and information exchange that are developing throughout Muslim Asia and that could be extended to New Zealand."
That is not to overlook the value of the halal meat market. In the year to June 2011, New Zealand exports of halal-certified meat to Muslim markets were worth almost $490 million to the economy.
Waikato-based Greenlea Meats turned over $240 million last year, about $30 million of which came through its halal meat trade.
To comply with Halal rules, slaughtermen at Greenlea Meats face animals towards Mecca using an arrow on the ceiling above the killing cradle.
The company has two Muslim workers on each shift, as well as a Mulsim supervisor, who pray in Arabic over each animal before it is stunned, then killed.
Tony Egan, managing director of Greenlea, says New Zealand has established itself as a world leader in the halal meat market over the last 10 to 15 years.
"It's a big market for New Zealand meat. Eighty per cent of our country's meat processing plants are halal-certified," he said.
There are 48 certified processing plants in New Zealand, employing more than 200 qualified halal meat workers.
Egan says he is increasingly exporting beef into markets closer to home, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
"About 15 years ago we realised that the secret to unlocking the potential of these new customers was to visit them, listen to them and ensure that we met their product and service standards.
"It's meant understanding a new customer and aligning ourselves with their specific requirements."
Together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF), the industry was able to establish a halal protocol for meat processing in 2010.
Egan said a significant step for New Zealand was coming up with the method of slaughter, which involves stunning livestock so they cannot feel pain before being slaughtered.
"It means we can comply with halal requirements but still meet MAF's strict welfare requirements."
Organised by the Business School and the New Zealand Asia Institute, the Asia Dialogue conference will cover topics including the scope of the halal market, opportunities for businesses with stringent halal standards, and bringing together religion, science and innovation.
Malaysian business leader Tan Sri Halim Saad will lead the line-up of international and New Zealand speakers.
Business School development manager Brad Weekly says several presenters from the 2012 World Halal Forum would be speaking at the Asia Dialogue conference.
"Their perspective on opportunities in the global halal economy will add enormously to the value for attendees,"he says.