Despite eight rounds of sweeping EU sanctions against Moscow, Russian diamonds have remained a shining absence from the bloc’s embargo list. This might be because Belgium is home to the world’s biggest diamond trading hub in Antwerp, The Guardian reported on Monday.
According to the report, citing statistics from Belgium’s national bank, 25% of rough diamonds passing through Antwerp have traditionally come from Russia.
Data showed that, in 2021, Belgium imported €1.8 billion ($1.8 billion) worth of Russian diamonds and €1.2 billion in the first eight months of 2022. This year was tumultuous, with imports soaring in June to €393 million, and then falling sharply. In August, Belgium imported €35.9 million Russian diamonds, compared to €215.4 million in the same month of 2021, an 83% year-on-year decrease.
Tom Neys, a spokesperson for the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), explained to the media outlet that the surge in June reflected diamond deals that were “already closed» before the start of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
Neys is against an import ban, however, saying that Antwerp must remain “an open door for companies who have no options.” According to him, big companies have alternatives to Russian diamonds, “but for small traders this is very difficult … it is then you are going to be squeezed to death if they don’t have alternatives.”
The spokesman said that some niche sectors had no alternatives, citing as an example Russian industrial diamonds, which were the standard for surgical eye scalpels.
The AWDC has warned that 10,000 jobs would be at risk were the import of Russian diamonds to cease. The ban would trigger an exodus of diamond dealers from Antwerp for the Middle East and India, countries still trading with Russia, it claimed. “This is not some vague warning: you will end up with the risk that the whole €40 billion [annual turnover] will go to India or Dubai and they will become the biggest trading center in the world,” said Neys.
The Belgian government insists it has never sought to block anti-Russia sanctions. Yet, sources told The Guardian that when the Russian mining giant Alrosa was included in the last round of European sanctions, Brussels abstained. The sanctions later passed unanimously without any mention of Alrosa, the report notes.
Now, Poland and the Baltic states are again pressing for Russian diamonds to be included in the next round of EU sanctions, which are expected before the end of the year.
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