Global diamond trade accord reached

The governments of 52 nations and the diamond industry reached a worldwide accord in Interlaken, Switzerland on Tuesday to stop trade in diamonds from conflict zones, but campaigners complained it lacks the muscle needed to stamp out a main source of funds for civil wars in Africa, the Associated Press reports.

Starting Jan. 1, batches of exported rough diamonds must be accompanied by government certification that they do not come from territory held by rebels. No gems can be imported into another country without the certificate. A purchaser can demand a retailer prove the origin of diamonds on sale.

Anyone who breaks the rules, whether a private exporter or importer, would lose their trading license. Exporting countries that fail to respect the deal also would be barred from selling diamonds and could face international sanctions.

“This will bind everybody who is involved in the diamond chain,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, South African Mineral and Energy Minister, reportedly said. However, the certification applies only to rough diamonds, not cut gems.

The 52-nation agreement, which was signed, seals 2 1/2 years of discussions launched after disclosure that diamond production was financing deadly conflicts in nations like Angola and Sierra Leone.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher reportedly said the U.S. government welcomed the agreement. He said it creates a “trading system that fulfills an international commitment to the innocent victims of conflicts that have been fueled by the proceeds of conflict diamonds.”

But campaigners said they were unhappy that monitoring had been left to the industry, under the watch of individual governments.

Ian Smillie of Partnership Africa Canada reportedly said campaigners favored an international body with its own customs agents to oversee the agreement, because “a lot of governments have been implicated in the trade.”

A U.N. embargo on exports from Africa’s war zones did not keep the diamonds off the market. Many dealers skirted detection by passing gems through other African countries. The Central African Republic, for example, exports three times more diamonds than it produces.

Conflict diamonds are estimated to make up only about 3% of the annual global production of rough diamonds, which totaled $7.8 billion last year. Most of the gems are beyond reproach, coming from Botswana, South Africa, Canada, and Russia.

Rough diamonds from a particular region often have characteristics like color or size that would match the description on the certificate and allow experts to determine where they came from.

However, governments acknowledge diamond traders could still duck the restrictions.

“It is difficult to estimate to what extent a certification scheme will actually be able to contain the trade in blood diamonds,” Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, which organized the Interlaken meeting, reportedly said in a statement.

But Eli Izhakoff, chairman of the New York-based World Diamond Council, reportedly said “fingers will be pointed at those governments” that ignore the rules.