At a time when the local diamond industry is taking baby steps towards declassifying knowledge about diamonds, the Chief Executive Officer of the Botswana Confederation of Commerce, Industry and Manpower, Maria Machailo-Ellis, has revealed plans to forge formal links with Antwerp, the Belgian city where almost 85 percent of the world’s uncut diamonds are traded.
Through the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP), BOCCIM has established a working relationship with the Belgian Chamber of Commerce which has sent a delegation to Botswana on two occasions. Launched in May last year, the PSDP is a new initiative under the development pillar of the Botswana-European Union partnership.
Although Botswana produces 25 percent of the world’s rough diamonds and is the world’s leading producer of gem quality diamonds in the world, very few Batswana have real knowledge about diamonds and – for business people, the workings of the diamond industry. This is a matter of grave concern and some leaders have officialised their grievances about the citizenry having inadequate knowledge about an industry largely defined by a resource their country produces. Lately however, De Beers has been opening up and sharing a bit more information about diamonds than about when Orapa mine was opened and how deep its pit is.
Machailo-Ellis says that BOCCIM would take advantage of this development and create awareness among its members about the diamond industry. The first step in such endeavour would be to engage with the Diamond Trade Company Botswana in order to enable BOCCIM members to appreciate the latter’s role in the diamond industry. The BOCCIM boss hopes that such engagement would enable the Confederation to figure out ways in which it can partner with Antwerp companies.
The latter do business in what is called the Diamond Quarter – an area of about one square mile which is the largest diamond centre in the world and has a turnover of P478.2 billion. The Diamond Quarter has 380 workshops that serve 1500 companies as well as 3500 brokers. Its centrepiece is the Antwerp World Diamond Centre which houses four trading exchanges and as many banks that specialise in the financing of the diamond trade. In recent years, however, Antwerp has been facing steep competition for cutting and polishing stones from low-wage centres in the developing world like Mumbai in India, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Shanghai in China. It is unlikely this latter development will derail BOCCIM from working its way into the heart of the diamond trade because it is in the throes of establishing formal links with the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Next month, Machailo-Ellis will attend the Second Brazil-Africa Forum. She hopes that BOCCIM’s participation at that meeting would give Botswana’s private sector an entr├®e into the lucrative BRICS market.