Belgium National Bank shows no reduction in Russian diamonds imports as Antwerp hub states
Since the war in Ukraine ecloded, the Antwerp diamond hub is between a rock and a hard place when it comes to its close relations with the Russian market. According to Hans Merket, a researcher focusing on the link between natural resources and conflict at Ipis NGO, the Belgian diamond sector wants to keep "their good image" and continue to be the "biggest world hub", a hard match these days.
“The way is to say that the demand in the sector has been reduced. They can keep friends and be quiet for a while and then when this is over, they can go back to business as usual,” explains Merket to Belga News Agency.
The global diamond industry gathered yesterday, 14 September, in Antwerp for the first edition of Facets, a conference dedicated to analyse the latest trends in the diamond industry and celebrate nearly 600 years of Antwerp as a world diamond center.
During the event, the Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo and the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) again refused the idea of sanctions or boycott over the Russian diamond industry, but proposed a narrative stating that customers and jewelers are increasingly asking questions about the origin of the stones.
The Belgian newspaper Tijd quoted the AWDC informing that Antwerp's trade in Russian diamonds has fallen “significantly” in recent months, noting it did not give "concrete figures". The Belgian PM was quoted by the Gazet Van Antwerpen (GVA).
“The Antwerp diamond sector has drastically curtailed its trade with Russia in recent months,” said De Croo to GVA. “Trade with Russia has not dropped to 0%, but the rapid phasing out of trade relations with Russia does illustrate that it was the right choice not to impose a ban. Now the sector can phase out at its own pace,” he added.
National Bank numbers
For Merket, it is difficult to take these data for granted, without concrete numbers. So, he checked the transparent data on Belgian imports of Russian diamonds from the Belgium National Bank and found out the available figures until May this year. “Belgium praises itself for reducing Russian diamond imports without sanctions, but ‘can't share numbers’. The National Bank of Belgium does: the first 5 months of 2022 show hardly any reduction, €740 million worth of Russian diamonds compared to €770 million in 2021," he shared in his Twitter account this September 15.
“On one hand there's their (Antwerp diamond trade hub) concern for their image, on the other hand there’s their competitiveness. They want to remain the biggest diamond trade hub in the world. The problem is that these two are very difficult to reconcile,” ponders the researcher.
Image and competitiveness
The AWDC estimates that 84% of the world’s rough diamonds and 50% of all polished diamonds pass through the city. Before the war in Ukraine erupted in February, Antwerp imported and exported $1.8 billion of rough diamonds from the Russian state-owned miner Alrosa, which was not present at Facets conference.
Merket considers that for Antwerp’s diamond industry image, the relations with Alrosa amidst the war in Ukraine does not give a good look. The researcher from Ipis observed that since the Russian controversy, the AWDC stopped releasing industry numbers as in the past.
He acknowledges that the relationship with Alrosa is needed for the Belgian diamond market competitiveness, though.
“It’s such an important supplier, corresponding to 25% of diamonds coming into Antwerp. If they lose it and Dubai (UAE) takes over, then it’s a very difficult movement to stop. Now their way is to say that the demand is reducing,” concludes the researcher.
© BELGA PHOTO (VIVIANE VAZ) "Facets 2022" conference on diamond trade in Antwerp