WTO approves rules waiver on ‘conflict diamonds’

The World Trade Organization in Geneva agreed Wednesday that countries can sidestep one of its basic principles and join in a ban on trade—refusing to import “conflict diamonds” that have financed civil wars in Africa, The Associated Press reports.

The WTO agreed by consensus that participants in the Kimberley Process will be allowed to reject rough diamonds from areas of conflict, the AP reports. The WTO cited “the extraordinary humanitarian nature of this issue and the devastating impact of conflicts fueled by the trade in conflict diamonds on the peace, safety and security of people in affected countries” as the reason for its decision.

At a meeting last November, 52 governments and the diamond industry reached a worldwide accord to stop trade in conflict diamonds.

The agreement sealed 2 1/2 years of discussions launched after disclosure that diamond production was financing deadly conflicts in nations such as Angola and Sierra Leone.

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.

The issue was taken to the WTO because one of the founding principles of the 145-member world trade body is that a government must offer the same conditions to all trading partners and cannot refuse to accept goods from one country that it accepts from another, the AP reports.

Wednesday’s waiver applies to any country that took part in the Kimberley Process and any other WTO member that announces it wants to be part of the agreement, the AP reports. The waiver must still be approved by the WTO’s General Council.

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