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Dubai Overtakes Antwerp as Top Rough Exporter

Feb 24, 2022 9:02 AM   By Joshua Freedman
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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has leapfrogged Belgium as the world’s largest exporter of rough diamonds, officials in Dubai said during a week of international jewelry events in the city.

The local industry has capitalized on other diamond centers’ Covid-19 downturns, as well as favorable tax and financing situations. Dubai is also poised to develop as a trade-show venue amid difficulties bringing visitors to Hong Kong.

Rough exports surged 98% year on year to $12.96 billion in 2021 and jumped 62% versus 2019’s figure, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) reported Tuesday — the first time in many years that it had published detailed diamond-trade data. By volume, rough exports climbed 31% to 107.9 million carats.

Belgium’s rough exports came to $11.12 billion for the same period.

Dubai, the UAE’s most populous city, is the “new capital of the diamond trade,” claimed Ahmed Bin Sulayem, the DMCC’s executive chairman and CEO, in his opening speech at the Dubai Diamond Conference on Monday. He noted a “geopolitical shift away from traditional centers.”

Dubai’s relatively relaxed Covid-19 policy has enabled more and more tenders to take place in the city, with the Dubai Diamond Exchange (DDE) hosting 68 diamond and precious-stone sales during the year. The UAE-Israel peace treaty in 2020 also boosted trading; the Israel Diamond Exchange (IDE) opened its representative office in the DDE on Tuesday.

Proximity to India has added further firepower, as has the launch of direct flights to and from Surat, the largest manufacturing hub. Meanwhile, a free-trade agreement the UAE signed with India last week will benefit both sides, Bin Sulayem argued.

In response, the Antwerp World Diamond Centre (AWDC) said its combined rough and polished shipments still exceeded those of Dubai.

“Dubai and Antwerp have a very different way of working,” an AWDC spokesperson said. “For example, they do not publish official records, don’t evaluate the value of goods in the [Kimberley Process]…and do not apply the same standards of compliance and due diligence, resulting in the absence of transparent, comparable or independent data.”

Showing off

Sentiment was positive at the inaugural Jewellery, Gem & Technology (JGT) Dubai show, which kicked off on Monday at the Dubai World Trade Centre. Many participants viewed the launch as a signal of the Middle Eastern city’s growing importance as a hub for trade fairs. The exhibition is a joint venture between two events giants: Informa Markets, which operates the September Hong Kong show, and Italian Exhibition Group (IEG), the company behind Vicenzaoro.

Dubai allows tourists to enter without quarantine and has continued to host large crowds at venues, in contrast with Hong Kong, where visitors must undergo weeks of isolation. In addition, an entrepreneurial outlook, low taxes, and a more positive attitude toward the diamond trade among banks have contributed to the emirate’s success in attracting business from Antwerp, dealers noted.

“Things move faster [in Dubai],” a major polished manufacturer said at the show on condition of anonymity. “Decisions are taken very quickly. They are making every effort to facilitate business.”

Dubai had been in discussions with Informa about a new fair since well before Covid-19, DMCC executives told Rapaport News. The Hong Kong shows have suffered postponements and been forced to go ahead almost without overseas exhibitors and buyers. Even prior to the pandemic, the municipality’s events saw disruptions due to typhoons and the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

“If you look at it from Informa’s perspective, they put all their eggs in the Hong Kong show,” explained Martin Leake, special adviser for precious stones at the DMCC. “And when Hong Kong got canceled because of [events out of their hands], they wanted to make sure they’ve got diversification.”

The pandemic has transformed the industry and highlighted the importance of businesses being agile, commented Celine Lau, Informa’s director of jewelry fairs.

“To serve our community’s immediate and future needs, we have to be adaptable, nimble and open to exploring new ideas and possibilities,” Lau continued. “Our partnership with IEG demonstrates this openness and willingness to adapt our strategy to changing times.”

This week’s events were partly aimed at promoting the Dubai diamond trade, with speakers and delegates visiting from around the world.

JGT will become an annual fixture, Leake noted. The Dubai Diamond Conference will continue to take place every second year but is likely to span at least two days next time, compared with one this year, he added.

Polished ambitions

Dubai’s rough imports also increased sharply, rising 80% to $9.92 billion last year. Yet the city has no designs to displace India as the world’s top manufacturing center, even as the introduction of automated polishing enables processing to take place anywhere in the world. India has crucial expertise in diamond cutting, officials explained.

Still, Dubai is looking to take on the polished-trading market, though progress is gradual. In 2021, its polished exports increased 70% to $4.15 billion, with polished imports up 65% at $4.93 billion — figures that trailed Belgium’s by a distance.

“As a polished-diamond center like what Amsterdam was and what Antwerp is, the very least Dubai can do is match it, if not exceed it,” Bin Sulayem said. “A lot of our rough-diamond clients also have a polished-diamonds side of their business, so we’re positioned strongly to benefit from this and bring in that market.”

Images: Participants at JGT Dubai. (Informa Markets)

The reporter attended the Dubai Diamond Conference as a guest of the DMCC.
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Tags: Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Antwerp, Antwerp World Diamond Centre, AWDC, Belgium, Celine Lau, COVID-19, DDE, DMCC, Dubai, Dubai Diamond Conference, Dubai Diamond Exchange, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, Dubai World Trade Centre, Hong Kong, IDE, IEG, India, Informa, Informa Markets, Israel, Israel Diamond Exchange, Italian Exhibition Group, Jewellery Gem & Technology Dubai, JGT, JGT Dubai, Joshua Freedman, Kimberley Process, polished, rough, uae, United Arab Emirates, Vicenzaoro
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