Interview
Getting to Halal
Prof. Sukoso, head of the Halal Product Assurance Organizing Agency (BPJPH), on progress toward mandatory implementation in October
Jan 31, 2019 | Peter Sean Lie and Yanuar Wibisana

The signing of Law No. 33 of 2014 concerning Halal Product Assurance has been a concern for many businesses, both local and foreign, over whether it will mean added cost and more complex procedures to secure halal certification. The mandatory nature of the law, which also includes pharmaceuticals, is a further worry.

To get ready for this sweeping sea change on Halal, businesses and government must undertake numerous preparations. The law has established a new body to deal with halal certification and implementation, the Halal Product Assurance Organizing Agency (BPJPH). It is responsible for not only issuing halal certification, but also managing other relevant agencies in the certification process, such as the Halal Examination Agencies (LPH) and foreign halal certifiers.

AmCham sat down with the head of BPJPH, Prof. Sukoso, to better understand the progress it has made so far.

AmCham Indonesia: Has BPJPH accomplished its targets and goals so far? Is everything on schedule?

Prof. Sukoso: I would say that BPJPH has exceeded its targets. Here's the thing. I started as the head of BPJPH on August 2, 2017, which means that BPJPH started to effectively function when I was chosen as its head. So in a very limited time, BPJPH has accomplished many things, even exceeding our initial targets. 

For example, regarding the draft government regulation [GR] on halal. We managed to push the drafting and the seven relevant ministers signed the draft GR on January 8, 2019. The draft is now waiting for the president to sign. This is a great achievement, seeing that it was not easy to deal with seven different ministries. We needed to build constructive communication, not only with the relevant ministers, but also with businesses and associations who wanted to give input and suggestions for the GR. 

We have done a total of 36 focus group discussions [FGDs] with government agencies and institutions, not including the FGDs we have done with chambers and business associations. Before we finalized the GR, we wanted to make sure that all input from various stakeholders was heard. On June 25, 2018, we got a ministerial letter saying that the draft GR was final already, and the draft could be sent to the State Secretariat to be distributed to the relevant seven ministries. Praise God, on January 8, the draft was signed by all the relevant ministries. Therefore, in a short amount of time, I would say that BPJPH has accomplished a lot.

What is the progress of the Ministry of Religious Affairs Regulation (MRAR)?

Our progress has been amazing. There are about 34 clauses of rules that need to be made. These 34 clauses are condensed into four main regulations. The first regulation is about the legal status of BPJPH as a public service agency. The second is regarding the establishment of the Halal Service Building. Two of these have been signed. The third is about the phasing implementation of mandatory halal certification, which prioritizes food and beverage products. This regulation is still in process and will be signed soon. The last one is the management of Halal Product Assurance, which is still in process.

I will explain in detail about the first MRAR, which is about the legal status of BPJPH. According to the law, BPJPH is a public service agency. We wrote a proposal to the Ministry of Finance to request for BPJPH to be a public service agency. On Jan. 2, 2019, the Decision Letter from the Ministry of Finance was out, formalizing BPJPH as a public service agency, and that we have autonomy to manage our own finances based on the principles of efficiency and productivity. From the income that we get from the halal certification service, we are expected to sustain our business. By being a public service agency, we are also entitled to diversify our activities other than halal certification. We can cooperate with other agencies to establish and develop halal centers such as halal convenience stores or minimarts. This is a big responsibility. I have informed all staff in BPJPH that we need to work hard because we are responsible for independently managing ourselves. We want efficiency -- that is why for me personally I am available through WhatsApp for consultation, because I want to get things done. Moreover, we want to sustain our business through the income from our halal certification. However, we are not commercial.

Regarding the third MRAR on phasing the implementation of mandatory halal certification, BPJPH is going to prioritize food and beverage products first. We plan to give food and beverage products a three to five-year period. For other products like medicines, we plan to give a five to seven-year period. The draft of this regulation is done and is waiting for signing by the Minister of Religious Affairs. However, BPJPH hopes that companies can start doing halal certification as soon as possible and not wait for the phasing deadline.

What other progress has BPJPH made?

Progress has also been made in terms of our halal Logo and Halal Information System. Our halal logo was approved by the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, in the form of a patent, on Oct. 23, 2018. Regarding the Halal Information System, we are also going to finish one aspect of the system by the end of this month. BPJPH is also going to open more branches outside Jakarta. We have selected some provinces where business activity is high, which means the need for a BPJPH branch is necessary. We plan to survey these prioritized areas with the State Apparatus Empowerment and Bureaucratic Reform Ministry (Kementerian PAN RB), because they deal with the personnel that will be placed in those areas.

We have also done socialization with 20 provinces about the Halal Product Assurance Law. Businesses in these provinces have been informed through business associations. We have also involved universities. We have signed MoUs [memorandums of understanding] with 14 universities. We also have established cooperation with the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN). All of this has been done to establish the Halal Examination Agency (LPH) as an important agency in the halal certification process. We have also established over 40 partnerships with government or non-governmental organizations.

We have also visited foreign countries such as Malaysia, Turkey, Japan and Switzerland, and did some socialization about the Halal Law. We visited Malaysia to establish partnership with JAKIM [the Malaysian halal certifier body]. We visited Ankara, Turkey, to establish partnerships with halal organizations there. Also we visited Switzerland to explain about our Halal Law to the World Trade Organization in an annual summit there. Their responses have been quite positive, because we came there with open hands. I want to make BPJPH available for consultation and questions.

Regarding the Mutual-Recognition Agreement (MRA), will BPJPH actively promote our national halal certificate to be recognized abroad? And how about cross-country certification?

Of course we want our halal certificate to be recognized abroad. This is why MRA is essential as a foundation of cooperation with other countries and foreign halal certifiers. But the thing is, Indonesia mostly imports foods and food ingredients, and we have not established ourselves as an exporting country. With the increasing exports from our country, we hope that halal certification from our country can be more accepted worldwide. Through our foreign visits, we have also attempted to endorse our halal certification worldwide.

Regarding cross-country certification, BPJPH will still not endorse this as we want to respect each country's halal system. However, we'll see and judge based on each case. In other words, it is still possible for a foreign halal certifier to certify products from several other countries.

How is the progress of cooperation between BPJPH and other government agencies, such as the National Agency of Food and Drug Control (BPOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?

With BPOM, we are more concerned on how to make the halal certification and registration process more efficient. Businesses that have registered through BPOM don't need to start from scratch, because the data in BPOM can be migrated to BPJPH to be further verified. Harmonization between BPJPH and BPOM is our main concern. With the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, our main concern is about foreign halal logos. BPJPH will recognize those logos released by foreign halal certifiers as long as BPJPH has established mutual-recognition with those certifiers. However, unfortunately, BPJPH has not yet established any formal MoUs with foreign countries, including JAKIM. But, as I have said before, we have visited some of them and established communication.

If, for example, the people complain that a product with a foreign halal logo is actually not halal. BPJPH is going to firstly contact the government of the respective country though the Indonesian embassy there, and ask for assistance regarding the whereabouts of the company that produces that particular product. This is why foreign halal certifiers need to get state recognition, because if there is a problem happening, we can directly contact the government of those respective countries, particularly the related ministries like the industry or agriculture, for example. If the foreign halal certifier has already been recognized by the state and BPJPH, the companies can get certified by that country and send their products to Indonesia without the need to give any notification to their respective government.

The MoU with BPOM and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not been signed yet. However, doing an MoU with government agencies is relatively simple and easy. We have been in touch with BPOM and the ministry and have programs together without an MoU. An MoU is only a legal foundation.

How does BPJPH deal with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?

BPJPH is concerned with SMEs and we want them to be informed about Halal Product Assurance. This is why we developed the Halal Center, as a consultative service for SMEs. We understand that SMEs need to be reached out to in order to be aware of the mandatory halal certification, unlike big companies that already have regulatory affairs divisions. We hope that the SMEs take the initiative to learn about Halal Product Assurance, and the process of halal certification, because the platform is provided already by BPJPH. Through our socialization to other provinces, we hope the SMEs are more aware of this mandatory halal certification.

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