Russian diamond ban ‘would cost 10,000 jobs’, Antwerp says

As the European Commission considers adding Russian diamonds to a new sanctions package, the Belgian diamond industry is concerned about massive job losses.

Asked by EUobserver if he would personally buy a Russian diamond for his girlfriend, a lobbyist in the diamond district of Antwerp hesitated for a long time.

But as the EU prepares an almost total embargo on Russian diamonds in reaction to the war, the Antwerp spokesman said: “At the end of the day: yes, I would buy a Russian diamond even if I knew Where was he coming from”.

He would do this personally to “protect” people’s jobs in Antwerp and poor Russian regions, said Tom Neys, spokesman for the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC).

The AWDC was against an EU ban, Neys added, because Russia would be “welcome with open arms” to sell its diamonds in the Middle East or Asia instead.

Belgian diplomats had raised similar objections during previous EU talks on sanctions against Russia.

Belgium’s support is vital as Antwerp’s Diamond Square Mile is the largest shopping center in the world and the only major one in Europe, which handles up to a third of Russia’s exports.

The ban would put 10,000 people out of work in Antwerp, the AWDC estimates.

But for all that, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has also publicly stated that he would not veto a ban if there was overwhelming support for a ban in the EU.

And Belgian officials told EUobserver on Monday (September 26) that “nothing has changed” in De Croo’s position, as a European majority in favor of the move gathers momentum.

Ireland, Poland and the Baltic states have stepped up calls for a diamond ban in response to Russia’s plan to annex eastern Ukraine.

The European Commission is expected to propose an EU ban on ‘non-industrial’ Russian diamonds (covering the vast majority of exports) in the coming days, after speaking in ‘confessionals’ with all 27 EU capitals over the course of weekend to see which way the wind was blowing.

“It’s on the table. A majority wants it in the new sanctions package and the Belgians have said they won’t veto it,” said an EU diplomat.

“There is no fierce opposition [from Belgium]”said a second EU diplomat.

Russian diamond exports amount to around 4 billion euros a year, a drop in the Kremlin’s oil revenue category.

But if the ban’s impact on Russia was mostly symbolic, it would cause a veritable earthquake in global diamond markets, the AWDC predicted.

Russia could transport its diamonds from Antwerp to Dubai or India “overnight” and they may never return to Europe, Neys said.

The global diamond market is unlike any other because “every five-carat diamond produced in a year in the world fits in a basketball,” he said.

“It’s the most condensed high-value commodity on the planet, easy to carry in your pocket on an airplane. It’s not like oil or coal,” he added.

Moving to Middle Eastern or Asian markets would also set back industry reforms “in the Middle Ages” because Antwerp had the best anti-money laundering regime in the world, Neys claimed.

Blood diamonds?

The AWDC favors a multilateral rather than a European approach that leaves it up to consumers to decide whether or not to buy Russian stones.

But when asked if it was easy for Antwerp buyers to tell if the diamond in their fiancee’s ring was Russian, Neys said cut diamonds were harder to trace than uncut ones.

“You can ask. And if the seller has a certificate, you’ll know,” he said.

When asked if it was fair to call Russian diamonds “blood diamonds”, by analogy with a popular film about Africa, Neys said that the preferred industry term for these stones was ” conflict diamonds”.

For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has already been calling on Belgium and Antwerp since March to put morality first.

And a European diplomat from the pro-ban camp has debunked the AWDC argument.

“The same could be said of sanctions against any Russian economic sector – that they won’t stop the war and they will cost jobs,” the diplomat said.

“Targeting Russian luxury goods may be symbolic, but it’s exactly the kind of political symbolism we need, because it gets into the heads of Russia’s elite,” he added.

“Antwerp needs to do its homework if it wants to have a viable business in the future,” said another European diplomat. “It’s in his own, long-term interest to turn away from Russia,” he said.

About Timothy Cheatham

Check Also

Student loan debt is a crucial issue for the midterm elections

According to a dashboard created by Axios to show the most frequently searched topics ahead …