Illicit diamonds come into the U.S. undetected

Diamonds that have fueled civil wars in Africa are arriving undetected in the United States, the world’s biggest diamond market, but new legislation will weed them out, according to a non-profit group helping to draft the law, Reuters reported.

“I can’t estimate the value of conflict diamonds coming into the United States because they are completely undetected at this point,” said Cecilia Gardner, executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee, Reuters reported.

Gardner, whose U.S.-based non-profit group is helping the jewelry industry comply with law aimed at stemming the flow of ”blood diamonds, spoke on Wednesday at the World Diamond Conference in Vancouver, Canada.

The Clean Diamond Act, introduced in June by U.S. Rep. Tony Hall, an Ohio Democrat, would require importers to provide certification of the origin of rough or polished diamonds and some jewelry that contains diamonds. Hall was scheduled to address the international gathering on Thursday.

Blood diamonds, which are used to fund brutal wars in countries like Angola and Sierra Leone, account for just 4% of the world’s estimated $7.5 billion trade in rough stones. The U.S. market consumes about 50% of world diamond production.

It is also estimated that up to 20% of African diamond production leaves the continent illegally-a loss of $1.5 billion to Africa’s formal economies.

“We know it is a minority of diamonds, we don’t want one conflict diamond traded, even one is too many,” Gardner said, adding that the proposed legislation had the broad support of diamond wholesalers, retailers and human rights groups.

“It is something you should be very aware of if you have any desire to sell diamonds in the U.S., and in the end, unless you are very familiar with the legislation you may have a very difficult time bringing your product to the United States,” she warned.

The legislation proposes, among other things, that rough diamonds cannot enter the United States from a country without a proper control system. The parcel of stones would also have to be sealed in a secure, transparent container or bag and contain a registration number and the full carat weight.

“Nothing in the act should be seen to have its purpose of impeding the trade of diamonds,” Gardner told the 350 delegates. She said the legislation could be used as a model for other nations to address the problem of conflict diamonds.

Tom Beardmore-Gray, senior vice president of De Beers Canada, said the South African diamond conglomerate which accounts for around 70% of the world trade in rough stones, fully supported the proposed legislation.

“We hope that it will soon be adopted as law in the United States,” he told the conference, Reuters reported.

Beardmore-Gray said De Beers was working with the World Diamond Council, the United Nations and civil organizations to help eradicate the trade in conflict diamonds, Reuters reported. It has also closed many of its buying offices in Africa.

Diamond officials of African states at the conference said they too supported the proposed U.S. legislation. African countries like Botswana, South Africa, and Namibia, which are not engaged in civil wars, have been alarmed that their major source of revenue may be threatened unless the issue of conflict diamonds is properly addressed.