Victor Van Der Kwast, chief executive officer of ABN MROÔÇöthe world’s leading diamond bankÔÇöraised Botswana’s hopes for being an international diamond centre by assuring the market that his bank is planning to open shop in Botswana.
“We are quite interested to establish quickly, but as you know we have to go through the formalities of application,” he told The Sunday Standard in an exclusive interview on the sides of the Botswana Resource Sector Conference that was held at Gaborone International Conference Centre.
Earlier in February, Van der Kwast told the Israeli Diamond Conference in Tel Aviv that his bank was looking at the prospects of operating in southern Africa to support the diamond beneficiation programme.
Botswana, Namibia and South Africa started operating their Diamond Trading Companies this year as part of devolving its operations from London to the producer countries.
“We are looking at Botswana and South Africa. And other countries are India and Israel, including South America,”┬á Victor Van Der Kwast said.
“The bank debt is rising┬á within the industry but what is the problem? We have focus┬á on the new emerging markets and the issue is how we do it better and quicker,” he said then.
This week, Van der Kwast has a series of meetings in Gaborone, starting with Minerals and Energy Minister, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, before meeting with Finance Minister and top officials at the Bank of Botswana.
“We want to bring global expertise to Botswana because we feel that Botswana is a great country to operate from,” he added.
ABN AMRO, which is under intense take-over bid from Fortis, operates in 46 countries and has a dedicated division to diamond financing.
“Botswana is a primary producer of rough diamonds and now is getting to cutting and manufacturing jewellery. We hope that it will ultimately be an international diamond centre though it might take a longer time than China and India. Botswana is very interesting and we are doing the whole evaluation,” he said, adding that “moving to Botswana” is one of the top priorities of his bank.
“We are looking at all services and products and where we could help. Beneficiation has been a major thing for Botswana but it is not going to be the only thing,” he added.
Van Der Kwast praised Botswana for its highest rating in Africa and its fiscal monetary stance. The visit by the bank is the second one after top officials of the bank first visited the country last year. Last year, ABN AMRO and Antwerp Diamond Bank visited the country following the 16 sightholders who are established in Botswana.
Starting next year, Botswana’s Diamond Trading Company is expected to sell goods worth US $ 500 million.
Further, Van Der Kwast urged the diamond industryÔÇöespecially at cutting and polishing levelÔÇöto consolidate in the light of growing level of debt in the industry. The global diamond debt is estimated at between US $ 12- 13 billionÔÇöpart of that being that diamontaires have ploughed their money into the falling stock markets.
“Some of the diamontaires have been using money to go into the stock exchange. In terms of crisis you’re to be thinking of opportunities and we will be there for you,” he said.
He said the relative drop in the diamond demand in the USA market will be picked up by other countries in Asia and Russia.
“We need to be well organized in terms of how we do our business,” he said.