Belgium and UK to move forward with diamond trading reforms

Britain and Belgium are ignoring opposition from Russia and have begun efforts to halt the trade in “conflict diamonds,” the Financial Times (FT) reported.

Britain is concerned that attempts to stop diamonds from fueling conflict have stalled because of resistance from Russia, a big producer of precious stones, the FT reports.

Belgium has agreed to put conflict diamonds high on its agenda when it takes over the presidency of the European Union next month. Britain hopes Belgium will inject fresh momentum into last year’s drive towards a global plan for certifying diamonds that have not come from conflict zones.

Peter Hain, the UK’s minister for Europe, will hold talks on Tuesday with Annemie Neyts, his Belgian counterpart, in London, FT reports. The Belgian foreign ministry said it would put conflict diamonds on its agenda for the EU presidency.

The EU is important to a global certification scheme because Antwerp and London are two of the world’s biggest markets for rough stones. Negotiations led by South Africa, which began last year, are supposed to culminate this autumn in a certification plan sponsored by the United Nations general assembly. But the so-called Kimberley process stalled in April when participating countries, including Russia, failed to make substantive progress at a meeting in Brussels.

The negotiations move to Moscow next month, and participating countries will consider a European commission blueprint for a certification plan, FT reports. The diamond industry is concerned that the blueprint could be too bureaucratic.

Global Witness, the group that pressed for action against the trade, said: “There are worrying signs that the Russians are not fully committed to the Kimberley process and all the aspects of the envisaged certification scheme,” FT reports. It said progress at the Moscow meeting was crucial if the UN general assembly was to be in a position to approve a certification scheme this autumn.

Diamonds have fueled brutal conflicts in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone. Rebel movements have used proceeds from diamond sales to buy weapons. EU foreign ministers on Monday appointed their own special envoy to west Africa.

Hain urged EU member states to crack down on the transit of weapons from eastern Europe to conflict zones in Africa. He sought concerted action against arms traffickers such as Victor Bout, a former Soviet Union air force officer, FT reports. He is accused of flying weapons to Unita, the Angolan rebel movement that has thrived on illicit diamond sales.