Antwerp Worried About U.S. Slowdown

Dealers in Antwerp are worried about the U.S. economy but are hopeful that things will pick up this year.

“People are concerned, but we don’t have many indications of a recession in America,” says Peter Meeus, head of Hoge Raad voor Diamant (HRD), the Antwerp promotional group. “I’m nervous it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Meeus notes that, after being criticized by the United Nations for lax “conflict diamond” controls in 2000, Antwerp is now at the forefront of establishing the proposed rough certification system. And, he says, there’s an increased awareness among dealers of the “conflict” issue.

“If it even smells like conflict diamonds, dealers in Antwerp stay away from it,” Meeus says. “My personal feeling is the trade in these gems has gone down a lot. No system will ever be 100%, but then nothing is 100%.”

He noted that exports from Liberia—often called the main transshipment point for diamonds from Sierra Leone—are down, and there’s been no increase from other countries (such as Burkina Faso) that are suspected of laundering Sierra stones.

He added that the HRD had forwarded to local authorities several cases of dealers suspected of handling “conflict” gems.

Antwerp had a record turnover of $25.8 billion in 2000, an 8.6% leap from the year before. But that came against the backdrop of continuing concerns over profits. “We are going through many difficulties,” says Meeus. “There’s a permanent under-supply in rough, and we are likely to see margins cut even further.”