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By  , Friday, August 04, 2006

 Flemish Vice Minister

Every two years a "World Diamond Congress" is held, at which delegates from affiliated Bourses meet to discuss issues facing the industry.  Fientje Moerman, Vice Minister President of the Flemish Government and Foreign Minister in several areas delivered a speech at the opening session of the 32nd World Diamond Congress in Tel Aviv, Israel, reproduced here: 

"Your Excellency, Mister President, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:  It's a great pleasure for me to attend this 32nd World Diamond Congress, organized by the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association. Indeed, I'm very grateful to the organizers - the Israel Diamond Exchange and the Israel Diamond Manufacturers Association - for giving me the opportunity to address you at the opening session of this prestigious event. It's always dangerous giving the floor to a politician, because while you know when they'll start, you never know when they'll finish; but rest assured: I'll be brief. 

Over the last few months, diamonds have become an intrinsic part of my professional life. Just three months ago I was in Johannesburg, where I met with the management of De Beers to discuss their supplier of choice policy.  Today I'm in Tel Aviv, one of the world's leading diamond centers. Tomorrow, I'll be in Russia, the world’s second largest diamond producer by value. In addition, I've been involved throughout in the restructuring of the Antwerp Diamond High Council, which is more widely known as the HRD. In fact, since the start of the year, I've had more to do with diamonds than previously in my whole life. And I must confess, I've really become passionate about them, so I guess there must be some truth in the saying: "Diamonds are a girl’s best friend."  

One of the highlights of this 32nd World Diamond Congress will be the launch of World Federation of Diamond Bourses Mark and the World Federation’s Code of Principles. Today, the diamond trade is still all too often associated with unethical behavior, scandals, and corruption. Personally, I believe that a stringent set of ethical business principles is the best way of countering any allegations of this sort. You will all be aware that within the next three years synthetic diamonds are set to become a serious threat to their natural counterparts. The only way you can convince consumers – whether men or women – to pay more for the real thing is if you can give them absolute certainty that the diamond they are buying is not stained in any way by wars, conflicts, child labor, or synthetic treatment.  

I should add that it isn't just the diamond industry that finds itself obliged to develop ethical and sustainable business practices. One of my top policy priorities in Flanders is to instill in companies a sense of corporate social responsibility. When a company is internationally active, it is particularly important that it pays attention to the so-called "triple P" factor: profit, people, and planet.  

In other words, economic profitability must go hand in hand with respect for the environment and due regard for the people working within or alongside the company in question and for the community at large. Such an approach generates long-term gains for businesses and for society. Isn't this precisely what the diamond industry is striving to achieve? So yes, I warmly applaud the efforts of the World Federation of Diamond Bourses to promote the importance of ethical business in the diamond trade. 

Earlier on, I mentioned the ongoing restructuring of the HRD. The recent developments in Antwerp have been covered by the general press, both in Belgium and abroad, but let me now sum up the most important points: 

To comply with the Belgian legislation on non-profit organizations, the organizational structure of the HRD, including its Board of Directors, had to be completely overhauled. Quite apart from the legal requirements, this also provided an excellent opportunity to bring the new Board into line with the corporate governance principle of transparency and with the need for a truly representative body. Finally, the revamping of the HRD was also meant to provide an answer to the increasing competition that Antwerp is facing.  

The first results of the review process are already clear today: a new Board of Directors, chaired by Mr. Jacky Roth, was elected back in early May, and appointed a new managing director, Mr. Freddy Hanard. Together this new team will further develop and implement the HRD's new structure and strategy. In so doing, the organization can count on the support of both the Belgian and the Flemish governments. The Belgian prime minister has already announced a new set of fiscal and other incentives designed to keep Antwerp attractive for diamond and jewelry companies. But we will continue to work closely together with the new Board and management to help maintain Antwerp's competitive edge. In this connection, we have learned a great deal from the excellent relations existing here in Israel between the government and the diamond industry, whereby the Israeli government makes sure that the policy framework in place enables the local diamond industry to flourish. And isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? 

Ladies and gentlemen, I promised to keep this short, so let me end now by simply wishing you all a very interesting, enlightening, and fruitful congress. I shall look forward to seeing you later at tonight's gala dinner. 

Thank you for your attention."

 

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