DOHA: The Philippines through National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) is seeking to establish relations with Qatar in the fields of education and halal industry.

A delegation, led  by NCMF Secretary Yasmin Busran-Lao is in Qatar to meet institutions and agencies to explore possible partnerships.

Lao said they have met Qatar University (QU) officials and the areas of possible collaborations discussed included scholarship exchange and research to develop the Philippine halal industry.

The global halal industry is valued at $3trn and Lao expressed keenness to tap human and natural resources to develop the country’s halal industry.

She said through research, QU could help in the development of the industry which could be a source in meeting food security needs of both parties.

NCMF Commissioner Edil Baddiri said there is also a plan to invite investors from Qatar, such as Hassad Food, which focuses on food security in Qatar.

“A 100-hectare plot has been allocated for halal industry in the Zamboanga Economic Zone (Zamboecozone). Our goal is to connect Hassad to Zamboecozone. With food products we have in Region 9 and ARMM areas, there is huge potential that there will be a programme or project with Hassad,” said Baddiri.

“Our Halal industry is in infant stage and with Zamboecozone and investors like Hassad, will fast-track progress and promotion of the Philippine halal industry,” he added.

With the Asean Integration, there is a need for the Philippines to catch up with countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia with regard to the halal market.

Being largely dependent on food imports, Qatar is seen as a viable market for halal products from the Philippines.

“As you know, Qatar’s food security is important. It imports 95 percent of its food and Mindanao can serve as supplier of food,” said Philippine Ambassador Wilfredo C Santos.

Having recently launched Kulinarya Qatar, an initiative to promote Philippine tourism via Filipino cuisine, Santos believes having a robust halal industry can turn the Philippines into a destination of choice for tourists from Qatar and the rest of the GCC.

Aside from making halal food available in hotels and food establishments, there is a need to provide additional facilities such as prayer rooms to attract more tourists to the Philippines, he added.

Baddiri said Lao had met Philippine Department of Tourism Secretary Ramon R Jimenez, Jr who is keen to develop the Philippine halal industry with respect to tourism.

With regard to education, Lao said they wanted to harness partnerships by expanding the scholarship exchange programme to include other areas.

“In the past, scholarships were in the religious aspect such as Shariah, Theology and Islamic Studies. We are interested to do that but we want to up the ante by not just focusing on theological and religious skills but scientific and technological skills as well,” she said.

“We had several graduates from Middle Eastern countries who are learned theologians but when they come back to the Philippines, they lack employment opportunities,” she said, adding these graduates can be trained in other areas such as engineering and Islamic finance.

The delegation will meet Qatar Foundation officials tomorrow and discuss endowments and scholarships.

“This is a good beginning and we will try to find out ways wherein the Philippines with NCMF and counterpart agencies and institutions like QU can work together and help each other in promoting shared interest,” said Baddiri.