Thursday, February 28, 2013

(SUNDAY MAIL ZW) Editorial Comment: Belgians crave Marange diamonds

Editorial Comment: Belgians crave Marange diamonds
Sunday, 24 February 2013 00:00

The latest act of aggression by the European Union against Zimbabwe’s diamond industry is nothing short of a circus. European governments, dazed by an unrelenting recession that has significantly weakened many economies, have run out of ideas and are now terribly divided on how to handle the discredited sanctions.

There have been heated debates in Brussels on Zimbabwe. In fact, the discussions have been so vigorous that a visitor from Mars would be forgiven for assuming that this African state is a member of the troubled EU. Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders and Britain’s William Hague were locked in fierce exchanges last week as temperatures shot up.

The protagonists in this political drama are a curious mix. London, lurching from one disaster to another as horse meat and an imploding economy create a deadly tailspin for clueless policymakers, is failing to read the changing times — and the British economy is paying dearly for the ineptitude of political leaders.

Strong-arm tactics, a remnant of the colonial era where Britain was master of the world, will not go unchallenged in the 21st century. You have to question the thinking of British politicians when they choose to expend their energies on sabotaging Zimbabwe’s economy instead of focusing on their own economy which is gasping for oxygen.

Just yesterday, the rating agency Moody’s downgraded the British economy from a top AAA to a telling AA1. To the average Briton, this signals a serious national emergency that demands decisive intervention from the chaps who roam the corridors of Whitehall. But London’s political fat cats would rather meddle in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs than repair one of the worst economies in Europe.
A showdown of titanic proportions played out last week in Brussels — the seat of the EU — when the British government sought an extension of the illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe. What they thought would be a routine formality turned out to be anything but.

The Belgians, unhappy with Britain’s obsession with the senseless sanctions, clearly told other EU members that London was behaving unreasonably. The British were stunned and, for a while, they realized that sanctions were no longer a sustainable instrument of foreign policy on the Zimbabwe issue.

The Belgians are opposed to the British-instigated sanctions for one clear reason: the sanctions are sabotaging Belgium’s economic interests while furthering London’s political interests.
For centuries, the city of Antwerp commanded the world’s largest diamond market. The shrewd dealers who run the Antwerp market have known for several years now that Zimbabwe will soon become the world’s biggest producer of rough diamonds. Where cents and dollars are concerned, the logic was straightforward. If the Belgians were serious about remaining the biggest market, they had to do business with Zimbabwe. But here was the problem: the EU sanctions, imposed on Zimbabwe at the instigation of Britain over a land reform grudge, made it difficult for Antwerp to benefit from the Zimbabwe gems.

Once Zimbabwe attained full certification to mine and export diamonds under the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), Britain’s hardline stance became increasingly untenable. The KPCS greenlight meant that Zimbabwe could now freely export the Marange diamonds — even though the EU sanctions precluded the European market as a trade destination. It simply meant that Zimbabwe had to look elsewhere, and countries such China and India came into the picture. India is buying Zimbabwe’s rough stones and China is mining locally here.

India has done particularly well with rough stones, and the city of Surat is swiftly overtaking Antwerp as the world’s biggest diamond centre. Although volumes and prices fluctuate, diamond production in the world is estimated at $18 billion per year and India imports some $11 billion worth of rough stones per annum. Whichever way you look at it, this is hefty capacity.
Despite crude attempts by the EU and the United States to intimidate buyers of Marange goods, the Indians have refused to be cowed and are gladly doing business with Zimbabwe’s diamond producers.

What makes the British government’s hostile stance untenable is that the KPCS committee which gave Zimbabwe the go-ahead to mine and export diamonds is headed by officials from the EU. On that score, it is patently scandalous that the British are disrespecting the findings of a KPCS team headed by one of their own. The Belgians have noticed this, and they are not the only ones who are outraged by such insincere conduct.

The time has come for the KPCS, currently chaired by South African diplomat Welile Nhlapo, to defend the honour of the organization by condemning Western governments that are playing cheap politics with Zimbabwe’s diamonds. The EU is a member of the KPCS. The European bloc must shoulder collective responsibility for all the binding resolutions passed by the diamond grouping and stop behaving like lawless pirates on the high seas who respect neither the law nor moral values.
To their credit, the Belgians are refusing to be intimidated by British politicians who are peddling the lie that there is civil war in Zimbabwe. London is making money in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Is there “democracy” in those countries?

The Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation recently announced that the nation aims to more than double its output of diamonds from 8 million carats last year to 16.9 million in 2013. The EU says it is making Zimbabwe a diamonds-for-democracy offer. Sanctions on Marange diamonds — says the European bloc — will only be scrapped if Zimbabwe holds free and fair elections later this year. Surely, the British government does not expect the Belgians to sit back and lose out while Surat, Shanghai and Dubai get all the Marange diamonds. More importantly, Zimbabwe’s fully certified diamond sector cannot be expected to shut down and appease a racist cabal in London.

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