Tokyo Olympic halal deals still up in the air

Malaysian suppliers could not move forward with their ventures as Japan continues to make all the proper adjustments to the events


BUSINESS opportunities that seemed ripe for the picking a couple of years ago, through various multi-million halal deals that were struck to commensurate with the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, have been placed on the back burner along with the status of the games.

Malaysian suppliers could not move forward with their ventures of providing halal products to the games as host country, Japan, continues to make all the proper adjustments to the events as a result of the Covid19 pandemic.

Japanese Ambassador to Malaysia Hiroshi Oka said efforts and development relating to the games are all pointing to the commitment of the organising committee to make sure that the Olympics and Paralympics could be held in July.

“The schedule and venues for the games were decided by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last year and the opening ceremony will take place on July 23.

“However, we do understand that the Covid-19 coronavirus is a big challenge for us in terms of how to enhance the preventive measures and make sure all the participants will be safe,” Oka said.

He added that for the local and foreign audiences, the ruling on the games will be decided by springtime.

“We are currently waiting for the actual announcement from the IOC and the local Olympic organising committee,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Oka said the organising committees for the games are conducting an in-depth study on the problems concerning the audience aspect, taking into account the infectious rate in Japan.

Waiting on the side are Malaysian suppliers who have been banking on the Olympic and Paralympic Games to export halal products and services worth up to US$300 million (RM1.23 billion).

As the only country that has inked a deal with Tokyo to provide halal catering for the event, Malaysia has also formulated a strategic master plan for its halal industry which would take advantage of the Olympics and Paralympics.

The Games are also seen as the main launchpad for Malaysian halal businesses to capture a slice of Japan’s US$800 billion food and beverages markets.

Apart from catering and food-related endeavours, the Malaysian government also secured separate spaces and booths to organise “Malaysia Street” — a corner to promote Malaysian products and allow for interactions with Japanese buyers and distributors.

Halal Development Corp Bhd (HDC) CEO Hairol Ariffein Sahari told TMR that while the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics are meant to be fruitful opportunities for Malaysia, the games are not the end goal.

Now, due to what transpired, Hairol Ariffein said HDC has begun working with an organisation representing the Hokkaido government to link Japanese companies to the Malaysian halal industry and its industry players.

“We are ironing the business plan with our local partner in Japan. We want to facilitate our export with collaboration with Malaysia External Trade Development Corp and also to attract Japanese investors to invest in Malaysia, particularly in our halal industrial park and that will be done through a collaboration with the Malaysian Investment Development Authority.

“We will utilise our presence there to promote Malaysian talents to service Japanese halal companies and position Malaysian halal auditors and halal supply chain managers in the international market. It is part of our responsibility to create quality employment for Malaysian talent,” he said.

Hairol Ariffein added that the agreement on halal cooperation between Malaysia and Japan signed in 2018 has always been beyond the Olympics and Paralympics with the main objective being to penetrate the Japanese food market.

“As far as our memorandum of cooperation on the halal economy with the Japanese government, it goes beyond the Tokyo Olympics. Without the Games, the strategies and objectives remain intact.

He added that the main aim would also include having more factories and premises in Japan to comply with halal standards so that the Japanese will source more halal ingredients from Malaysia.

“Let’s go back to the reason why we were so excited about the Tokyo Olympics. It is about wanting to

tap the extra halal market offered as an impact from the increased number of visitors to Tokyo,” he said.

However, all parties now have to opt for the wait and see mode before any decision can be made.

As it is, Japan is still struggling to curb the spread of Covid-19. Since the pandemic hit, Japan has recorded more than 426,000 infections with a near 2% mortality rate, equivalent to more than 7,500 coronavirus-related deaths.

Japan inked a contract with Pfizer Inc last January to procure 144 million doses of the coronavirus vaccines, which are only enough to cover more than half of the country’s population of 126 million people.

The country had begun its inoculation programme against the coronavirus in mid-February, starting with the 40,000 healthcare workers, just over five months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Despite the obstacles, Japan is adamant to hold the big events this July after they were postponed for a year.

The former president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee Yoshiro Mori said: “No matter what the situation would be with the virus, we will hold the games”.

Mori has resigned after a scandal over sexist remarks he made about women threatened to overshadow preparations for the Games.

Still, progress has been made to realise the games. The IOC recently published playbooks for the different sets of groups who are participating in the Olympics and Paralympics.

However, the committee has yet to announce the rules and regulations as well as the plans for the spectators.

Conducting the games without live audiences or, “behind closed doors”, is an idea that has been on the cards to avoid the risk of virus, which has seemed to be the new norm for organisers during the pandemic.

As for the athletes’ safety, Oka said standard operating procedures will be put in place to safeguard the athletes against any risks based on the situation.

“With or without audiences, it is being carefully studied by the stakeholders taking into account the infectious situation and the measures to protect all the involved participants,” he said.

Oka said the playbooks on the Games have been issued by the IOC, the official publication about the principal and rules that need to be observed.

“The publication is a piece of clear evidence that proper work is currently ongoing to make sure participating athletes feel safe and secure during the event. This evidence speaks volumes about the progress of the Olympics.

“I’m expecting a similar publication stipulating certain rules, addressing different stakeholders to be published subsequently,” he said.