It was complete chaos after a notification from authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) quietly announced that Pakistan will not be allowed to export fresh or chilled meat via sea to the UAE up until the 10th of October at least.
So what in the world is going on?
Put very briefly, the UAE does not trust the Pakistani meat industry and possibly for good reason. To make things very clear this does not mean Pakistani meat can no longer be exported to the UAE or anywhere else in the Gulf. It simply means that the export of fresh meat from Pakistan has been banned and that too through sea routes.
How the ban came about
Early in the month, a fungal contamination was detected in a shipment of meat from Pakistan to the UAE. Within a country’s domestic market this would be considered a case of a bad batch and simply disposed of. The problem in exporting is that host countries bringing in food items from foreign countries need to be very careful.
Fungi that could have originated from Pakistan might be entirely new in an area like the UAE. This would mean resistance to this fungus in the Emirates would be next to nothing and it could have dire implications for the food supply in the country. This is why export quality food products need to be packaged in very particular ways and in line with international regulations and standards.
As detailed in a notification dated September 19, 2023, by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, fresh or chilled meat from Pakistan is now required to adhere to specific packaging standards.
These include vacuum-packing or modified-atmosphere packaging and a prescribed shelf life of 60 to 120 days from the date of slaughtering to qualify for import.
The meat consignment in question had been sent by a Karachi-based company by sea and the whole shipment was destroyed by the UAE authorities, while a ban was imposed on all further imports of frozen meat from Pakistan through maritime channels at least up till Oct 10.
Meat exports by air will continue without any break. Pakistan exports meat worth around $144 million per year to the UAE of which, $12 million worth is transported via sea routes.
Pakistan’s current meat production stands at approximately 49 lakh tonnes, with only around 2 percent (equivalent to 95,991 tonnes) destined for export. The principal export destinations encompass Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and select Far East countries.
Over recent months, various Pakistani companies have effectively secured export agreements with China, Egypt, and Indonesia.
A total of 18 Pakistani companies have received endorsement from the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment for the import of fresh and frozen meat. These approved companies include Zenith Associates, P.K. Livestock and Meat Co. (Pvt) Ltd, Organic Meat Co, Tata Best Foods, K&N Food Co, Big Bird Foods. Pvt. Ltd, Halal Meat Processing, Al Shaheer Corporation (Private) Limited, Fauji Meat Limited, Hamza Meat and Poultry, Al–Rahim Farming Meat, Tazij Meats and Food Co, Abedin International Pvt. Ltd, Asia Livestock and Meat Company, Pakistan Food Products, Meat World Pvt. Limited, and Hamza Halal Food.
However, because of the one consignment, the entire meat industry is facing the ban.
A recent report published by Salaam Gateway, a Dubai-based news and insights platform specializing in the global Islamic economy, underscores that the global halal food and beverage industry is presently valued at $415 billion. The top 10 exporters of halal meat collectively account for a total trade value of $14.04 billion. Notably, the top three halal meat exporting countries—Brazil, Australia, and India—are non-Muslim-majority nations. In contrast, Pakistan ranks 19th among the world’s largest meat exporters, with annual exports exceeding $400 million.
Due to its geographical proximity to the Middle East, Pakistan stands poised to capitalize on the Halal meat industry, offering significant potential to enhance the country’s overall economic security. However, several challenges have restrained Pakistan from fully harnessing this sector’s potential.
Despite notable progress, Pakistan trails behind, holding only a 0.4 percent market share in global Halal meat exports. The majority of Pakistan’s Halal meat exports are destined for UAE, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Kuwait, with beef constituting over 80 percent of these exports.
The industry’s response
Pakistan’s meat industry already exports very little and much of this is because foreign markets have a trust deficit in doing business with Pakistan. The opportunity, as we’ve illustrated, is huge. Meat producers are now worried that this one bad consignment could have detrimental effects on their fledgling industry.
Talking to Profit, Faisal Hussain, CEO of the Organic Meat Company Limited, has clarified that the UAE has not halted meat imports from Pakistan altogether. Instead, they have temporarily suspended fresh meat imports via sea routes and mandated packaging upgrades until October 10. This measure is not expected to significantly disrupt Pakistan’s overall meat imports.
Traditionally, fresh meat had been shipped wrapped in cloth, but in recent years, importers have increasingly favored vacuum packaging and refrigerated containers for fresh meat. Hussain noted that these packaging upgrades may lead to increased expenses for companies involved in meat exports.
In addressing the issue of contaminated meat in the consignment, he emphasized that it appears to be a supply chain-related concern. He stressed that assigning blame to any specific company without a thorough investigation would be premature and refrained from disclosing the company’s name.
Meanwhile the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) also put out a statement in response saying they were actively working to resolve the recent ban imposed by the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on the export of fresh chilled meat from Pakistan via sea.
The preliminary investigations conducted by TDAP officials suggest that the compromised meat quality may be linked to issues with the refrigeration systems within the reefer containers. The responsibility for these systems lies with the shipping lines involved in the transportation of the goods. It has been revealed that the affected exporters have initiated legal proceedings against the shipping companies responsible.
In response to the ban, the Pakistani Consulate in Dubai has proactively engaged with various stakeholders to gain a deeper understanding of the root causes behind this unfortunate incident. They have also requested a formal meeting with the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment to present Pakistan’s perspective and comprehensively address the concerns raised. The mission’s primary objective is to alleviate the concerns expressed by UAE authorities while strongly advocating for the withdrawal of the ban.
They said that TDAP is firmly committed to promoting fair trade relations between Pakistan and the UAE while upholding international quality and safety standards.
“We are optimistic that through constructive dialogue and cooperation, both nations can find an amicable resolution that allows the resumption of fresh chilled meat exports from Pakistan to the UAE. TDAP is closely monitoring developments in this case,” they concluded.
Meat exporter Nasib Ahmed Saifi has clarified that the restrictions imposed by UAE authorities are temporary measures and not permanent. These restrictions will remain in effect until Pakistani meat exporters adhere to the protocols recommended by the UAE for the transportation of future meat shipments. Saifi explained the significance of following these protocols, which require exporters to vacuum-pack their meat before shipping it in refrigerated containers via sea routes.
He further explained that the meat shipments, which were found to have fungal issues, had been improperly packaged in cloth, resulting in damage to Pakistan’s reputation during the export of that specific consignment.
Abdul Hanan, Chairman of the All Pakistan Meat Processors and Exporters Association, expressed that the restrictions on sea routes are not expected to significantly affect export numbers. He highlighted the advantage of exporting via air routes, which allows for the shipment of fresher meat in a shorter time frame, expediting the export process. Hanan firmly stated that Pakistan maintains excellent meat quality, and any misconceptions regarding subpar quality based on one isolated incident are unfounded.
According to data provided by TDAP, Pakistan produced 52.996 million tons of meat during the 2021-22 period. The majority of this meat is consumed domestically, with only about 2% being exported. Total export earnings from meat in the last year amounted to USD 333.4 million. Pakistan’s primary meat products include beef, mutton, poultry, camel, and goat meat.
Pakistan ranks 11th in global poultry meat production. The country’s extensive cattle and goat farming are supported by the availability of pastures in Northern Areas, Cholistan, and Thar, along with natural animal rearing capabilities, meat-producing breeds, and favorable climatic conditions. Primary meat exports are directed to six GCC countries, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and China.
As per TDAP, Pakistan is internationally recognized as one of the leading meat producers and exporters. Over the past decade, it has experienced remarkable growth in meat exports, particularly to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. In January 2023, bovine meat exports from Pakistan amounted to $31 million, reflecting a substantial 29 percent increase compared to the same period in 2022.