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Boosting Diamond Trade Controls

It’s been said that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but during the African civil wars of the 1990s, they were often a warlord’s best friend too.

Rough diamonds mined, often with considerable brutality, in Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone and other countries were widely sold to finance insurgencies and related military operations. The world’s major nations united to stem the “blood diamond” trade, and while great progress was made against the practice, more still needs to be done.

In 2003, at the urging of the United Nations and other groups, an agreement was drawn up in Kimberley, the capital of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province, to set up a process to certify rough diamonds for legitimate sale by guaranteeing their source. The aim was and continues to be to prevent diamonds mined in conflict areas from entering the mainstream market, thereby cutting off money needed by rebel groups and others for their war aims.

Seventy-four nations joined in the Kimberley Process Certification Agreement. Under it, rough diamonds must be shipped in sealed containers with forgery-resistant certificates of origin. Diamond exporters and processors have to file reports on their sources and inventories.

Before 2003, as much as twenty percent of total world diamond production was sold for illegal purposes, according to industry estimates. With the new controls, by 2005 experts believe the blood diamond trade was reduced to about two percent.

Loopholes remain, however, and the United States, one of the world’s largest diamond markets, has moved to help close them. Changes announced in May will bring more government oversight to what has been a largely self-policing system. U.S. diamond importers and processors must now file entry documents with the government on all rough diamond shipments regardless of value. The previous threshold was two-thousand-five-hundred dollars. These businesses are also required to file annual reports on their total activity in rough diamonds for the year, including whether they have drawn down or increased their stockpiles.

Diamonds are important to the economic growth and development of African and other countries. Preserving their legitimate trade is an important goal for the U.S., as well as other nations.