Diamond-Banning Measure Still Alive in Congress

As Congress neared the end of its session at press time, lawmakers were considering at least two proposals on “conflict diamonds”-including one that could halt all diamond imports into the United States.

The proposal, a rider attached to a congressional spending bill by Senator Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), says no diamonds from conflict areas can be imported into the United States. Since there is now no way to determine a “conflict” stone, Customs Service officials may decide that the only way to follow the law is to stop all diamond imports. They may also decide to ignore it as unenforceable. “We won’t know until Customs decides,” says David Rocha of Jewelers of America.

The Gregg rider passed Congress, but the overall spending bill is likely to be vetoed by President Clinton because of some unrelated provisions on immigration. There is, however, a slight chance that the disputed immigration language could be changed without killing the Gregg rider-in which case, President Clinton may sign the bill, rider and all. “The Gregg rider is still alive,” Rocha says.

If the President does veto the bill, it is likely-though not definite-that the rider will be replaced by compromise language proposed by Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio). The compromise language prohibits countries without rough diamond controls from exporting stones to the United States. Countries have one year to set up those controls, though there are waivers if a country is seen to be making a “real effort,” says Hall spokeswoman Deborah DeYoung. Currently, the World Diamond Council, the industry body handling the conflict diamond issue, hopes to have a worldwide rough certification system in place by the first quarter of this year, well in advance of the deadline.

The Hall language also calls for the rough controls to be monitored by a U.S. agency or international organization, and it urges the President to negotiate an international agreement to eliminate conflict stones.

DeYoung is confident that Hall’s proposal will pass Congress if the Gregg rider is vetoed. But while the industry worked with Hall on the new language, Cecilia Gardner, executive director of the Jewelers Vigilance Committee and a member of the World Diamond Council’s legislation committee, still has a problem with some provisions. “We agree with the goal of the certification scheme, but some of the language is vague,” she argues, noting that the bill calls for controls on “diamonds” without defining that term. She also worries about the deadline. “There are many problems that are beyond the industry’s control,” she says. “We shouldn’t be punished if we can’t force countries to go along with our plan.”

Whether or not either of these pieces of legislation becomes law, it is almost definite that there will be additional conflict diamond laws proposed this year. “We are not going away,” DeYoung says.