By Michelle Graff

Last week at its plenary meeting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Kimberley Process (KP) ended its long-standing impasse on the issue of exporting rough diamonds from the Marange area of Zimbabwe, more due to the fact that United States abstained from voting than because the situation there has necessarily improved or the process has made great strides in bringing everyone together. It reminds me of that last, lone juror who believes the defendant is guilty but bows from pressure from other jurors to switch their verdict to “not guilty” so the trial will end and everybody can just go home.

The agreement allows for imports to begin immediately from two mines and for monitors to be able to visit other Marange mines and see what conditions are like there before they begin exporting.
Since the meeting, the U.S. State Department has said that it chose not to stand in the way of the KP finally reaching a deal--a compromise that, it admits, could have been “stronger”-- rather than allow the stalemate to continue. Many have speculated that the United States agreed to the exports so it could win the KP chairmanship for 2012, which it ultimately did.

So now the KP, and the industry as a whole, are faced with two interesting propositions going forward.

1) We’ve now made an agreement with Zimbabwe, but much speculation abounds about the government actually keeping its word. As Zimbabwean human right activist Farai Maguwu observed last week, “Zimbabwe has not honored the previous agreements and there is no reason for optimism that Zimbabwe will honor these agreements.”

2) The United States now is in the driver’s seat of the KP and, ostensibly, thinks it can push through some major reforms, reforms deemed necessary by Jewelers of America and the Diamond Importers and Manufacturers Association (DMIA) prior to last week’s meeting. I will be curious to see how this plays out 2012. As we all know, the KP is structured as such that a complete consensus is needed to move forward on any issue, and that has not always been so easy to obtain.

It took two years to reach an agreement on Zimbabwe (keeping in mind that there was no true consensus reached there; when push came to shove, the United States simply did not vote). So, how easily will more changes come in 2012? Does the United States think it has curried enough favor by abstaining on the Zimbabwe issue to push through other reforms it deems necessary? I guess only time will tell.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting for retailers here in the United States that despite the KP vote, Marange diamonds remain illegal because of U.S. sanctions on Robert Mugabe and his government. JA maintains that members avoid trading in Marange stones, and learn as much as possible about their supply chain, difficult as that may be.

As JA alluded to in the release it penned with the DMIA, the industry also is the process of working on a mechanism for greater inventory control that would, ultimately, help bolster consumer confidence, above and beyond what the KP can offer.

I don’t have many details on this initiative right now but it will be interesting to see what this industry coalition comes up with, and if the United States is able to make any headway in overhauling the KP.

It looks like 2012 is shaping up to be as interesting as 2011.

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