Local officials are starting small, with exports of such products as halal meat. But there are ambitious — and perhaps overly optimistic — plans to eventually turn the province into a gleaming financial hub for trade with the Arab world.
At the Yinshun company’s slaughterhouse and meat factory on the outskirts of town, Vice General Manager Yang Li, an ethnic Hui, described the company’s goals as largely profit-driven but also patriotic and cultural.
Almost half the staff are Hui, and the company follows strict Islamic rules about what their cows and sheep eat and drink, when slaughter can be performed and under what conditions.
The factory, which is two years old, has hosted high-level dignitaries from Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
But there have been some obstacles to increasing its exports, chief among them getting its halal meat certified under the byzantine and often-protectionist national laws of many Arab states. Yinshun, for instance, shipped 125 tons of halal meat last year to the Middle East, but it is in pursuit of deals that could increase that figure more than 10 times over, officials said.
Seeking Arab investors
Although Chinese officials have talked about their hope to diversify trade with the region, the lion’s share of Sino-Arab trade still consists of oil. Similarly, the long-term goal of luring investors from the Middle East has been slow to materialize, several officials from both sides acknowledged.
“It’s true there’s still not much investment coming from Arabic countries,” said Nazha Aschenbrenner, director of a trade initiative created by the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Trade. Highlighting the shared Muslim culture and religion in places such as Ningxia helps, she said. But, ultimately, business decisions come down to money.
Potential Chinese partners “have to keep in mind two factors: efficiency and marketing. Then investors will see that there is potential for profit,” she said. “In the end, investment isn’t colored by religion, it is profit-oriented.”