The Antwerp diamond trade came to a nearly complete standstill as a result of the measures announced by the Belgian Government to flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is scheduled to reopen next Monday, May 4, and industry organizations the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) and the Federation of Belgian Diamond Bourses (FBDB) are taking measures to ensure it can do so safely.
The AWDC and the FBDB have acquired 4,000 face masks that they will distribute to members of the Antwerp diamond industry. Hand sanitizers will be installed at hotspots such as entrances and elevators, and reminders to respect social distancing will be placed throughout the diamond district. Antwerp's diamond community members can use a tailor-made roadmap and visuals to ensure they comply with all measures in their own offices and buildings. The AWDC and FBDB are taking these measures to enable the diamond industry to restart its activities in the safest possible manner.
“While it is critical that businesses in the Antwerp diamond industry can start operating again, our top priority is ensuring the safety of our community,” said Margaux Donckier, spokeswoman for the AWDC. “As the umbrella organization for the Antwerp diamond trade, we have distributed a roadmap to the 1,600 companies we represent explaining in detail what precautions must be implemented to enable a safe restart. The AWDC will also organize a webinar to answer additional questions.”
At the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, the diamond trade fell to just 4% of the level of trading recorded in the same period last year, but it has slowly started to ramp up since then. “Fortunately, last week, we saw an increase in activity thanks to some large shipments of rough diamonds coming in,” says the AWDC spokeswoman. “Hopefully this trend will continue in the coming weeks. It will require a bit more patience, but the signs of recovery are encouraging.”
The Diamond Office, which processes all imports and exports of diamonds to and from Antwerp, has remained open throughout the lockdown, operating with a reduced staff and strict safety measures – a familiar practice for the tightly regulated organization. They will be ready for the influx of goods as more countries start to ease their COVID-19 restrictions. According to the AWDC, shipping companies operating in Antwerp are able to service clients for imports and exports of diamonds to and from Antwerp to all destinations, apart from India, which continues to be in strict lockdown. Last week, Ms. Donckier noted that during the financial crisis of 2008, the diamond trade declined initially by about 50 percent, but recovered quickly. This crisis is turning out to be much larger still, but the diamond industry has proven to be resilient to major disruptions, recovering more quickly than stock markets and other commodities.
In addition, the AWDC and FBDB are calling on their members to relinquish the traditional summer recess, typically halting the majority of trade activity in the Antwerp diamond square mile for three weeks between beginning and end of August. For many decades, the diamond summer recess meant the majority of companies, as well as service providers, café’s and food stores in the area would close shop entirely.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced business communities to close offices for several weeks, the AWDC and FBDB believe that actively keeping the sector open, is a vital step to a much-needed recovery of trade in the remainder of the year.
Philippe Barsamian, President of the FBDB: “The COVID-19 lockdowns across the globe have brought trading to a near halt for several weeks. While Antwerp and many parts of the world slowly re-emerge from this crisis, we need to make the most of the time we have left this year to make up for lost business.”
Nishit Parikh, President of the AWDC: “For a number of years now, many traders have argued that closing down an entire industry for three weeks is an outdated concept. In today’s interconnected world, where typical buying and selling moments in the seasons are no longer a mantra, and many industry events are rescheduled, our industry should adapt with flexibility. By relinquishing this traditional summer recess, we want to signal to the world that Antwerp will be open for business.”
Download the reopening guidelines and generic poster below.