Diamond industry says it’s winning the ‘conflict diamonds’ wars

The diamond industry’s top traders and polishers opened a world conference Monday in Antwerp, Belgium claiming they were winning the battle against smugglers who use gems to fund African wars, the Associated Press reports.

“We are now in the post-conflict diamond era,” Peter Meeus, managing director of Antwerp’s High Diamond Council, which handles 80% of world trade in rough diamonds and half of trade in cut gems, reportedly said. “The diamond business has changed.”

In an effort to improve its image, the industry plans to set up a “diamond relief fund” to channel money toward poverty reduction in the poorest gem producing countries, the AP reports.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore was expected to announce the result of money raised at a dinner later Monday night.

“The specter of conflict diamonds threatened to unfairly tarnish … the industry,” De Beers Chairman Nicky Oppenheimer, reportedly said. He stressed that at the height of an industry crisis over so called conflict diamonds three years ago, “less than 4% ” of diamonds were trading illegally to fund war.

Revelations that diamond sales were financing some of Africa’s bloodiest conflicts in Angola, Sierra Leone, Congo and Liberia severely dented the industry’s glittering image and forced the introduction of new controls on the gems-for-guns trade.

Oppenheimer, whose company has controlled the sale and marketing of diamonds for more than 70 years, called on the industry and governments to work together to stamp out remnants of the illegal trade.

The diamond industry, which was worth some $7.8 billion last year, is expected to grow in the years ahead after three years of restructuring to change the way diamonds are sold, polished and marketed.

De Beers monopoly in the gem’s supply has ended with new competition against De Beers from Canada’s Ashton Mining, Russia’s Alrosa and British-Australian mining conglomerate Rio Tinto. Canada and Russia are expected to replace Botswana as the top producers within the next decade.

The new relief fund is expected to grow to several million dollars over the next few years, targeting aid projects in Africa’s poorest countries whose economies depend on fluctuating gem prices, the AP reports.

“The diamond industry makes up three-quarters of our exports and therefore our economy rises and falls with the diamond market,” Botswana President Festus Mogae, whose country will be the main beneficiary of this year’s fund, reportedly said.

While Botswana’s exports account for 30% of the world’s rough diamonds, Mogae said it has still to see the full benefit of years of investment in its new mines.

On Jan. 1, about 30 countries are expected to implement the so-called Kimberley Process, an international policing system to control the sale of legal diamonds and keep conflict diamonds off the market.

“If they (Western governments) are interested in assisting us, they should finalize the agreement,” Mogae said, adding that poorer African producer countries desperately need Kimberley to regain progress lost after years of uncertainty on the market.