Supporters of diamond bill push for its passage

With the congressional session winding down, supporters of an effort to crack down on the trading of diamonds for weapons are urging lawmakers to pass legislation to spur negotiations for international regulations, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

“The fact is that a catalyst is required to put in place the controls necessary to eliminate conflict diamonds,” Matthew Runci, president of the Jewelers of America, told a House trade subcommittee. “Because the United States is the largest importer of diamonds, we have the opportunity and the obligation to provide that catalyst.”

The so-called “blood diamonds” or “conflict diamonds” have been targeted by the international community since revelations that rebel groups in Sierra Leone and Angola bought their weapons through diamond sales.

The diamond industry has been eager to clean up its image since the revelations and last year initiated talks in Kimberley, South Africa, on how to stop the illegal trade.

Those talks, which include more than 35 governments and are scheduled to continue in Angola later this month, have produced agreements on issues such as the use of forgery-resistant certificates and tamper-proof containers for shipments of rough diamonds as well as a number of other internal controls to make sure illicit diamonds don’t enter the market.

But after four meetings just this year, the talks are still not finalized, government officials told the AP. “There was not as much progress as we would have liked in coming to conclusions regarding the obligations governments and industry would undertake in such a system,” said Alan Eastham, a negotiator for the State Department.

Supporters are hoping Congress will push the parties to final agreement by passing a bill that prohibits the import of diamonds into the United States unless the exporting countries have a system in place that includes forgery-proof certification documents and a tracking system, the AP reported. The bill still gives exporting countries substantial leeway and doesn’t violate international trade rules, supporters say.

“This is a problem we can do something about, something we are in a unique position to address,” said Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, a leading supporter of the legislation.

Hall cited the efforts of the State Department and U.S. Customs Officials in the negotiations and said the bill would “strengthen their hand in these negotiations and help prevent them from dragging into a third year,” the AP reported.

House officials have expressed a commitment to passing the bill but with few days left in the legislative session and the government focused on anti-terrorism measures, its fate is uncertain, the AP reported.

“In this delicate time of international diplomacy, we must be especially careful not to disrupt the administration’s efforts, however, well-intentioned we may be,” said Phil Crane, R-Ill., chairman of the House trade subcommittee, the AP reported.

The bill is H.R. 2722. Text can be found at thomas.loc.gov.