7th Dec 2022

Russian diamonds ban 'would cost 10,000 jobs', Antwerp claims

  • Jewellery shopping in Antwerp: Would you buy a Russian diamond? (Photo: Kris Jacobs)
Listen to article

As the EU Commission mulls adding Russian diamonds to a new sanctions package, the Belgian diamond industry voices concern for massive job losses.

When asked by EUobserver if he'd personally buy a Russian diamond for his girlfriend, one Antwerp diamond quarter lobbyist hesitated for a long time.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But as the EU prepares a near-total Russia diamond embargo in reaction to the war, the Antwerp spokesman said: "In the end: Yes, I would buy a Russian diamond even though I knew where it came from".

He'd personally do it to "protect" people's jobs in Antwerp and in poor Russian regions, Tom Neys, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) spokesman said.

The AWDC was against an EU ban, Neys added, because Russia would be "welcome with open arms" to sell its diamonds in the Middle East or Asia instead.

Belgian diplomats had raised similar objections in previous EU talks on Russia sanctions.

Belgium's support is vital because Antwerp's Diamond Square Mile is the world's largest and Europe's only important trading centre, which handles up to one third of Russia's exports.

The ban would put 10,000 people out of work in Antwerp, the AWDC estimates.

But for all that, Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo has also said publicly that he wouldn't veto a ban if there was overwhelming support for one in the EU.

And Belgian officials informed EUobserver on Monday (26 September) that "nothing had changed" in De Croo's position, as an EU majority for the move builds momentum.

Ireland, Poland, and the Baltic states have redoubled diamond-ban calls in reaction to Russia's plan to annex eastern Ukraine.

The EU Commission is expected to propose an EU ban on "non-industrial" Russian diamonds (covering the vast majority of exports) in the next few days, after speaking in "confessionals" with all 27 EU capitals over the weekend to see which way the wind was blowing.

"It's on the table. A majority wants it in the new sanctions package and the Belgians have said they won't veto it," an EU diplomat said

"There's no fierce opposition [from Belgium]," a second EU diplomat said.

Russian diamond exports are worth some €4bn a year — a drop in the Kremlin's petro-income bucket.

But if the ban's impact on Russia would be mostly symbolic, it would cause a genuine earthquake in world diamond markets, the AWDC predicted.

Russia could take its diamonds from Antwerp to Dubai or India "overnight" and they might never come back to Europe, Neys said.

The world diamond market is like no other, because "all five-carat diamonds produced in a year worldwide fit in a basketball," he said.

"This is the most condensed high-value product on the planet, easy to transport in your pocket on a plane. It's not like oil or coal," he added.

The shift to Middle East or Asian markets would also set back industry reforms "to the Middle Ages", because Antwerp had the world's best anti-money laundering regime, Neys claimed.

Blood diamonds?

The AWDC favours a multilateral rather than EU approach that leaves it for consumers to decide whether or not to buy Russian stones.

But when asked how easy it was for Antwerp shoppers to currently know if the diamond in their fiancee's ring was Russian, Neys said cut diamonds were harder to trace than uncut ones.

"You can ask. And if the seller has a certificate, then you'll know," he said.

Questioned if it was fair to call Russian diamonds "blood diamonds", by analogy with a popular film about Africa, Neys said the preferred industry term for such stones was "conflict diamonds".

For his part, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has been calling for Belgium and Antwerp to put morality first since March already.

And one EU diplomat from the pro-ban camp debunked the AWDC's argument.

"You could say the same for sanctions on any Russian economic sector — that they won't stop the war and that they'll cost jobs," the diplomat said.

"Targeting Russia's luxury goods might be symbolic, but it's exactly the kind of political symbolism we need, because it gets into the heads of the Russian elite," he added.

"Antwerp has to do its homework if it wants to have a viable business in future," another EU diplomat said. "It's in its own interests, in the long-term, to turn away from Russia," he said.

Rights group documents forcible-transfer war crimes in Ukraine

A new Human Rights Watch report documents how Russia has forcibly transferred Ukrainian citizens from their homes to Russia and Russian-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine, a war crime in breach of international law, in a so-called "filtration" process.


Autocrats make us all less secure

How should democratic states co-operate with authoritarian governments in the future? My organisation, Democracy Reporting International, has studied the security strategies of 13 democratic governments to understand how they see this relationship.


Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  4. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  5. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  6. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe

Latest News

  1. EU delays Hungary funds decision, as Budapest vetoes Ukraine aid
  2. Borrell gets pension from MEP fund set for taxpayer bailout
  3. Autocrats make us all less secure
  4. Big Agri's lies: green EU farming not to blame for food insecurity
  5. German top court declares €800bn EU recovery fund 'legal'
  6. EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos
  7. Frontex expanding migrant route-busting mission in Balkans
  8. EU ministers in fresh battle on joint debt, after Biden subsidies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  2. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  3. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us