Belgium is one of the countries that took a devastating blow from the COVID-19 pandemic. With more than 51,000 infections reported, the country’s the more than 8,400 people that lost their life made its per capita death toll the highest among all developed countries. In its efforts to prevent the spread of the disease, the government put much of the country into lockdown, and effectively shut down the economy. Two months later, it and its diamond industry are slowly returning beginning their return to normality.
At the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, the diamond trade fell to just 4 percent of the level of trading recorded in the same period last year, but it has slowly started to ramp up since then. “Fortunately, last week, we saw an increase in activity thanks to some large shipments of rough diamonds coming in,” said Margaux Donckier, spokeswoman for the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC). “Hopefully this trend will continue in the coming weeks. It will require a bit more patience, but the signs of recovery are encouraging.”
“While it is critical that businesses in the Antwerp diamond industry can start operating again, our top priority is ensuring the safety of our community,” she added.
EXPORTS AND IMORTS FALL TO A BARE MINUMUM
Emergency restrictions Belgian public and economy were imposed on March 18 and only started to be lifted on May 4.
In Antwerp, where the bulk of the diamond industry is located, 600 trading companies shut their doors and 90 percent of the diamond cutting plants closed. Most of the country’s 500 cutters were forced to to seek unemployment benefits.
Antwerp is the world largest rough diamond trading center, but with mining facilities at a standstill and most international flights grounded, diamond shipments into the city dropped from an average of 400 to 500 per day, to as little as 26.
According to official figures, in March imports of polished diamonds fell to $400 million, 73.5 percent down from the $1.5 billion registered in March 2019. Exports of rough diamonds fell 51.3 percent to $449 million from $922 million a year before.
In March, diamond shipments into Antwerp dropped from an average of 400 to 500 per day, to as little as 26.
But the Diamond Office, which processes all imports and exports of diamonds to and from Antwerp, remained open throughout the lockdown, operating with a reduced staff and strict safety measures
According to the AWDC, shipping companies operating in Antwerp are able to service clients for imports and exports of diamonds to and from Antwerp to all destinations, apart from India, which continues to be in strict lockdown.
The almost deserted entrance to the Antwerp diamond district.
PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES BEING TAKEN TO OPEN FOR BUSINESS
The AWDC has been involved the plan to bring the diamond industry back to as full activity as possible. “As the umbrella organization for the Antwerp diamond trade, we have distributed a roadmap to the 1,600 companies we represent explaining in detail what precautions must be implemented to enable a safe restart,” Ms. Donckier said. “The AWDC will also organize a webinar to answer additional questions.”
The AWDC and the the Federation of Belgian Diamond Bourses (FBDB) have acquired 4,000 face masks that they will distribute to members of the Antwerp diamond industry. Hand sanitizers will be installed at hotspots such as entrances and elevators, and reminders to respect social distancing will be placed throughout the diamond district.
Antwerp’s diamond community members can use a tailor-made roadmap and visuals to ensure they comply with all measures in their own offices and buildings.
In addition, the AWDC and FBDB are calling on their members to relinquish the traditional summer recess, typically halting the majority of trade activity in the Antwerp diamond square mile for three weeks between beginning and end of August. For many decades, the diamond summer recess meant the majority of companies, as well as service providers, café’s and food stores in the area would close shop entirely.
“For a number of years now, many traders have argued that closing down an entire industry for three weeks is an outdated concept,” stated Nishit Parikh, President of the AWDC. “In today’s interconnected world, where typical buying and selling moments in the seasons are no longer a mantra, and many industry events are rescheduled, our industry should adapt with flexibility. By relinquishing this traditional summer recess, we want to signal to the world that Antwerp will be open for business.”