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Diamond may not be forever

Mumbai, May 24: After the squawk over call centre job losses in the US, there’s a growing rumble in Africa over the way traders in India spirit away diamond roughs and lucre out of their countries.

African nations like Botswana and South Africa are starting to wise up to the way they are losing big bucks because of traders in India who have perfected the art of putting a sparkle to the $3-billion worth of diamond roughs they import every year.

It’s the orchestration of the first signs of another outsourcing backlash against countries like India.

“How is Botswana going to tackle the issue of adding value to its rough diamond resources'” asked Festus G. Mogae, President of the Republic of Botswana, at the international diamond conference.

The near rhetorical question shook the audience that had a fair sprinkling of India’s Icemen out of its stupor. “Ice” is the old jewel thieves’ slang for diamonds.

Masking his rhetoric in diplomacy, Mogae reminded the audience that “India has enjoyed notable success in persuading first-world employers to relocate their operations here”.

He was referring to call centres. “Indeed, my own country might be able to follow in your footsteps,” he added helpfully.

Botswana’s sales of roughs to the Diamond Trading Company (DTC), which controls much of international trade, are expected to reach between $2 and $3 billion, which should constitute more than half of DTC’s total rough sales in the world market.

But there is also a flourishing illegal trade. “I am informed that the import of roughs into India from all sources is also in the order of some $3 billion.”

African politicians are beginning to assert themselves ' and this could have some repercussions on India’s $4-billion diamond market. They are beginning to see it as a source of jobs and wealth for their parlous economies if they can learn the art of diamond polishing and cutting.

A local diamond merchant was hugely dismissive about Mogae’s idea. “One needs time and perseverance to acquire skills in diamond cutting and polishing. It is not easy to replicate such activities in other countries,” he said.

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