H.E. Félix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), today paid a visit to the Antwerp diamond industry in the context of a broader mission to improve the relationship between Belgium and the DRC, which has been on the rocks in recent years. As President of the fourth largest diamond-producing country by volume, President Tshisekedi was welcomed by the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC), representative of the world’s largest diamond trade center.
Since ascending to the presidency in January of this year, President Tshisekedi has made the revival of diamond mining in the Kasai region of the DRC a priority. Speaking to the diamond community in Antwerp, he explained that he intends to focus his policy on greater transparency as well as “combating anti-Congolese values: corruption, mismanagement, lawlessness, legal and financial insecurity.” He emphasized that the DRC’s mineral riches, diamonds included, “have delivered nothing to the population. It is a geological scandal to have such riches underground and such poverty above the ground. The dysfunction of the mineral sector explains why the DRC is caught in the resource curse paradox.” He added, “with good governance, it will be possible to use our resources to the benefit of the people. The Congolese should be the first beneficiaries of these riches.”
It is with these thoughts in mind that he requested to visit the diamond industry in Antwerp, - his first stop outside of Africa on his DRC tour. The President said that Antwerp has earned its reputation as not only the most attractive and competitive market for diamond producers, but also for placing the greatest emphasis on transparency and sustainability in its business relations. AWDC CEO Ari Epstein agreed: “President Tshisekedi is implementing a new policy against corruption and promoting transparency in the DRC’s diamond sector to create added value for the population and the country. Antwerp can provide that added value.”
Epstein continued, “Today’s visit to Antwerp is the first step toward greater collaboration with a view to gradually revitalizing the DRC’s diamond trade,” highlighted with the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to formalize their engagement. According to the terms of the MoU, the AWDC and the DRC have agreed to exchange information and focus on training and technological support. He said that in addition to generating increased trade flows between the two countries, the AWDC is committed to helping the DRC’s diamond officials correctly assess the value of their diamonds by organizing diamond valuation programs: “We are offering our expertise and diamond valuation training to help the DRC generate higher revenues from their natural resources.”
He further emphasized that facilitating access to the transparent diamond market, and in particular the tender houses in Antwerp, will enable the DRC to obtain prices in conformity with the international market, which would be a welcome change for a country that badly needs the tax revenues that derive from correctly-priced exports. Indeed, the first stop President Tshisekedi made in Antwerp was to the international tender house Bonas Group, where the Congolese delegation held closed-door meetings with manager Didier Backaert in the hopes of increasing rough diamond imports from the DRC, and obtaining better prices for them. This was followed by a visit to the Diamond Office, the import/export facility at the heart of Antwerp’s commercial activities in the diamond trade. “The combination of the critical mass of diamond-related businesses in Antwerp and its global recognition as a responsible trade center makes Antwerp the ideal partner for a diamond producer looking to reboot its diamond industry,” Epstein added.
In recent years, Antwerp has imported fewer and fewer rough diamonds directly from the DRC, declining by 35% in value and 24% in volume in 2018 alone, with that trend continuing in 2019. The prices the DRC has been receiving for its diamond exports – always low - has also fallen by more than 50% in the past 15 years, currently sitting at just over $8 per carat.
While the AWDC acknowledges that this MoU is just a starting point, CEO Epstein says they are ready to explore whether and how a more official collaboration between the largest and most transparent diamond trade center and the DRC can take root in the future. President Félix Tshisekedi is the fourth African leader to visit the Antwerp diamond industry over the past two years, following the President of the Central African Republic, Faustin-Archange Touadéra in April, the President of Sierra Leone, Julius Mada Bio in November of 2018 and the President of Angola, Joao Lourenço in June of 2018.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the world’s fourth largest rough-diamond producer in terms of volume and the 10th largest in terms of value. According to official statistics from the Kimberley Process, in 2018 the DRC had an output of 16.4 million carats valued at over $136 million, but the average price per carat the country earned from its diamonds, $8.31, was the lowest in the world. The DRC’s diamond production in 2018 represented 11% of global output but less than 1% of its value. Belgium imported 6.72 million carats worth $59.1 million from the DRC in 2018. The amount imported represented 7.25% of the total volume of Belgian rough-diamond imports.