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Indians gain ground in Antwerp trade

The Indian diamond business community in Antwerp has gained control over the trade's main governing body.

india Updated: May 09, 2006 18:26 IST

Indian diamond traders who control more than half of Antwerp's diamond trade have gained ground in the trade's main governing body for the first time, winning five of the six elected seats.

The Indian diamond traders won the seats on the board of the HRD (Hoge Raad voor Diamant or Diamond High Council), the organisation that regulates and represents the diamond sector in Antwerp, last week.

Around 500 Indian families, mainly from the Gujarat town of Palanpur, are involved in diamond trade in Antwerp, the rough diamond capital of the world.

They arrived in the port city in the 1970s, absorbed technical diamond manufacturing skills and globalised the diamond trade.

Today Indians control 60 per cent of Antwerp's rough and polished diamond trade, worth US$36 billion in 2006, a trade originally dominated by Jews since the 15th century.

However, in spite of their global economic dominance until now, the Indian community was severely under-represented in the HRD, the umbrella body created in 1973.

It governs and represents Antwerp's diamond trade with the mandate of 13 different organisations representing different elements of the diamond trade.

HRD has been plagued with internal wrangling between bigger and smaller market players and party politics for a over a year owing to growing tensions between bigger players with access to rough diamonds from the South African mining giant De Beers and smaller players who were getting virtually forced out of the trade.

The sensitive issue of unbalanced ethnic representation of Indians in a mainly Jewish-dominated HRD board was also a controversy.

The crisis eventually culminated into a split within the HRD, leaving it paralysed due to the resignation of key players in the trade, INEP agency reported.

Matters were finally brought to the attention of Belgium's Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt who assigned a working group to the HRD and called for a total restructuring of the body, offering more balanced and direct representation on the board council.

Shashin Choksey, general secretary of the Indo- Belgian Diamantaire Association, said: "We have to now put ethnic differences aside and work for the future of Antwerp."

Antwerp's diamond industry contributes to 7-8 per cent of Belgium's overall exports and has generated 30,000 jobs till date.

However its undisputed position as a leading diamond centre is being questioned as it grapples with the forces of globalisation and struggles to fend off competition from upcoming centres, like tax free haven Dubai and India which is now the world's diamond manufacturing hub.

The spokesperson of HRD, Philip Claes, was quoted as saying: "The HRD hopes that the internal frictions of the last year will be done with as the diamond dealers are now directly involved in the organisation and that peace in the diamond sector will be restored.

"The actual composition of the board of directors, where five of the 12 mandates are filled by the members of the Indian community, is a more correct reflection of the relations within the sector", he said.