Diamond certification head hits out at G7 plans to target Russian producers

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The incoming chair of the international certification scheme for conflict diamonds has hit out at a plan by the G7 group of developed nations to track and trace Russian diamonds, warning of “irreparable harm” to African producers.

Ahmed bin Sulayem, who this week was elected to take charge of the Kimberley Process, a multilateral body tasked with cleaning up the diamond trade, said any proposed scheme “must take into account African diamond producing nations” such as Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

But the Emirati warned that a Belgian proposal to put restrictions on the international trade of diamonds, which the G7 is considering adopting, “falls well short of this important goal”.

The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell last week said that the bloc was set to move ahead with a ban on Russian diamonds after securing sufficient backing from the G7 group of developed nations.

The diamond dispute is only the latest rift between Europe and African capitals. A ministerial meeting set for next week has been postponed after officials decided there was little chance that the two sides would agree on a joint communiqué containing language regarding Israel’s war against Hamas and Russia’s war in Ukraine, according to three people briefed on the discussions.

The postponement follows disagreement between mainly western countries who have offered strong backing to Israel, and members of the Global South who have called for a ceasefire.

An employee holds a rough diamond at a factory in Moscow
An employee holds a rough diamond at a factory in Moscow © Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

The Kimberley Process is the global body set up two decades ago to eliminate trade in conflict diamonds following a UN general assembly resolution due to international alarm at “blood diamonds” from Sierra Leone.

Western nations have grown frustrated by the inability of the process to label Russian stones as “conflict diamonds” since the nomenclature is reserved for the funding of rebel groups, rather than wars led by governments against other nations.

The EU has argued that a traceability system is required to verify the origin of a diamond and make sanctions on Russian stones effective.

Four proposals had been put forward for a system to track and trace diamonds through the supply chain, which would pave the way for an EU ban on Russian stones.

Those came from Belgium, home to a crucial global trading hub in Antwerp; France with its large jewellery sector; India, the world’s biggest diamond cutting centre; and the World Diamond Council, an industry body backed by De Beers.

Under a version of the Belgian proposal seen by the Financial Times, Antwerp would become a “gatekeeper” to verify non-Russian origin diamonds entering G7 nations.

However, African nations are concerned that they would become collateral damage under such a proposal, with Antwerp profiting from their diamonds. Ministers from African diamond producing nations have also complained that they have been cut out of the G7 discussions.

Sulayem said the prevailing view from African ministers at the recent Kimberley Process meeting “was that the proposed Belgian scheme would penalise African diamond producing nations causing them irreparable harm”.

The African Diamond Producers Association, which represents 19 producers accounting for 60 per cent of global output, last month warned that the proposal would “bring supply chain disruption [and] added burden and costs” to mining nations.