Following in the footsteps of its neighbouring country United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia has begun introducing halal regulatory system in the last couple of years. Saudi Arabia began setting up a Halal Center within Saudi Food & Drug Authority (SFDA) followed by the introduction of an approval system of foreign halal certification bodies. The new approval system for Halal certification bodies replaces the previous requirement of halal certification bodies to be recognized by Muslim World League for their halal certificate to be accepted in Saudi Arabia. Just like for UAE, the halal certification body needs to be accredited by an SFDA recognized accreditation body to get registered with SFDA.
Up until now, a total of 69 halal certification bodies have been approved by SFDA for Saudi Arabia. There are no approved halal certification bodies in Saudi Arabia as all local & national halal certification is operated and managed by SFDA itself.
Currently only meat & meat-based products and ingredients require a mandatory halal certificate to enter the Saudi Arabian market, just like the case in other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries including UAE. But SFDA has gone some steps ahead of their neighbouring countries and proposed a new draft regulation wherein most food products shall require halal certificates to enter the Saudi Arabian market.
Once approved & implemented it may not only become a trade barrier for manufacturers and/or exporters especially from countries that do not have any SFDA registered certification bodies, but it could also add considerable costs to many products.
The regulation was first communicated by SFDA at the end of 2020 with an implementation date of 1st July 2021. But the unlikelihood of implementation from the target date due to the short grace period, a delay of six months from implementation date has now been proposed. The implementation of the entire regulation is divided into two phases with the first phase of implementation due to begin on 1st January 2022 while the second on 1st July 2022 as prescribed in the updated draft regulation.
Following are the new product categories that would require mandatory halal certification by an SFDA approved halal certification body to enter Saudi Arabian market are:
- Milk & dairy products (i.e. cheese, yogurt, laban, etc.)
- Oil & fats (i.e. oil, ghee, etc.)
- Confectionery (i.e. biscuits, chocolates, candy, jelly, cake, etc.)
- Chilled and frozen food (i.e. pasta, pizza, noodles, other frozen fast food, drinks, etc.)
- Products with a long shelf life at room temperature
(i.e. energy, carbonated & sports drinks, juices, sauces, nutritional supplements, baby foods, canned foods, etc.)
First four of the above listed product categories would be subject to implementation from 1st January 2022 and the last category of products with long shelf life at room temperature will be implemented from 1st July 2022. The draft regulation in question lists approximately 100 product specific standards along with 7 general standards that cover majority of the common food products used by everyday consumers. The draft regulation is open for public comments till 30th April 2021. There are still question marks over the matter of permissibility of cross border certification and exemption for certain food products from mandatory halal certification etc.
Finally, irrespective of whether the proposed regulation is approved or is implemented from next year, companies should take note of the direction countries in the GCC are heading to in terms of halal, (UAE, Qatar & Saudi Arabia already have an approval system for international halal certification bodies) and plan accordingly.
- Courtesy Salama – Halal Focus