Doing Business with India


GOPIO Conference Brussels, Belgium, 04-10-04

World of Diamond  and the Gujarti Community of Antwerp
Paper presented by Mr Bharat Shah
- Board Member, Indo-Belgian Diamenters Association
- Board Member Belgian Rough Dealers Association
- Board Member Diamond High Council (Trade)

HE minister, HE ambassador, Minister, Visiting dignitaries, and honored friends.

I am sure every one of you have heard about the Kohinoor diamond, mined in gondola mine in India, belonged to Indian maharajas and mysteriously disappeared from India to end up in the British crown jewels.

Some of you must have also head about the Napoleon Bonaparte has 100 carat plus cushion shaped diamond in his crown jewels.

Many of you must have heard about the hope diamond stolen from the 3rd eye of a Shiva idol in south India ending up in Europe and America, bring misfortune to all its subsequent owners.

Indeed a diamond is a very mysterious object, and yet fascinating and interesting that every women in the world desires to posses.

Till the 1400ís the west were ignorant about diamonds. However, we Indians knew about diamonds since more than 2,600 years. Lord Buddha in one of the discovers of theory of karma, he compared the diamond with karma, staring that karma are more difficult to cut then diamonds. So Indians not only knew about the existence of diamonds but also the physical and chemical property as one of the strongest element on the earth.

With the extinction of the Golconda mine in the 17th century the state of Vuawady and part of Goa lost its importance and the polishing trade moved to Europe with the rough supplied by mines of brazil and then south Africa.

In 1962 china invaded India, and the local economy was suffering. The gold control act pushed the small diamond dealers to market their polished diamonds abroad as an alternative market. This group of 20 to 30 Palanpuri Gujarati diamond dealers could convince the government of India then starving of foreign exchange to allow rough diamonds to be imported.

They explained that by keeping India a Manufacturing and polishing center, these goods would be re-exported after having considerable value added to them. These diamond dealers did not ask for any aid from the government such as government assistance, subsides, or duties.

During the subsequent growth of the diamond industry there was no burden on the economy, there was no noise, chemical, air or water pollution. Power consumption was extremely low to the ratio of vale added. And possibly most importantly the semi, and even un-educated work force was converted to efficient artisans and highly paid people.

In order to support this industry we the Palanpuries and few of the Patel community had to ensure a constant flow of rough diamonds. We chose to migrate to Antwerp, as it was the world capital for the rough trade.

In the last 4 decades slowly and gradually from 20 we have grown to a group of nearly 300 families who form one of the highest respected immigrants to reside in Belgium. We are the most affluent society. Most of us are self employed, and have in the recent years created local employment by employing secretaries, accountants, as sorters, and supported auxiliary industries. We are one of the few examples of the immigrant societies that have created job opportunities to locals rather than becoming a threat to their lively hoods.

We have almost no criminal records, or financial frauds. Indians here are highly respected in the Banking and government sectors as well.

With ever growing demand of Indian diamond industry, the Indians kept making contacts, and finding new places to source their diamonds from. Today we are the largest buying power in the mines in South Africa, Ghana, Angola, Congo, Canada, and Russia.

Today the diamond trade in Belgium accounts for 5% of its GDP. The People of Indian origin account for 70% of the Diamond business in Antwerp. We can conclude that 3.5% of Belgian GDP is actually due to people of Indian origin.

We the Belgian based Indians have continuously worked with our Indian counterparts to improve the industry and structure of the finished product for this we constancy advice our Indian counter parts for all the latest technology like laser sawing, laser drilling, maxi bruting, and computer planning. Over the period of last 3 decades, the industry has grown from a mere 2 million dollar export to 1966 to 10 billion export in 2003. From a small in house cottage industry to giant factories with thousands of employees in each factory. The total employment is over a million people with no labor unrest, labor strikes and so forth.

Today 90% of the world diamonds mined in the world by weight end up in India for polishing, 92% of the number of diamonds in the world are polished in India, and 70% of the diamonds by value are polished in India. All of this flow of rough diamonds is either coming from the DTC in London, or from Indians in Antwerp.

But we the Indians in Antwerp have not only focused on business, we are in constant touch with India and have stood by during all the problems at home, such as the floods in Orissa, drought in Gujarat and Rajasthan, and the earth quake in Kutch. We have sponsored a full fledged hospital with 100 beds and a 2 township for 450 families and 700 families under the umbrella of mayor of Antwerp.

We have not only waited for troubles at home to help our brothers. We are constantly supporting, and at times also leading welfare projects in educational, and health and infra structure. To give one shining example the famous Lillvati hospital of Bombay, have trustees based in Antwerp.

With a non-alignment policy we have kept good relationship with all the leading political parties in Belgium. As a matter of fact, the IBDA this year hosted a dinner which was attended by the Prime Minister of Belgium and many of his top ministers. The media covered this event in great depth. There the PM spoke very highly of the Indians in Antwerp.

It is not that we the Indians are the most respectable immigrates because we create tremendous business, or job opportunities for locals, but because we did not forget our roots. We are building a big traditional hand carved marble carved Jain temple which is actually going to be a monument and land mark here in Antwerp.

We celebrate Diwali and Navratri Holi, fire works and cricket and tennis tournaments. Any Indian function, including weddings and other celebrations are equally well attended by locals.

Truly, ours is a well integrated and well respected well placed society which between two countries, Belgium and India have developed to one of the biggest trading partnerships. This is without being a burden to either government. This has contributed to a sustained and sustainable growth of both economies in harmony with each other. There have been no false levies, import duties, or unfair practices to get the relationship where it is today. This relationship is here purely because of its own merits. There are no unfair practices to the employees of the trade, and most of all, no subsides or other hidden support the government provides diamond dealers and manufactures. The industry is where it is today, purely because of its own merits. To further prove this point, neither Belgium nor India have diamond mines. It is only the management and management skills has allowed these communities to shine brilliantly. Ladies and gentle men, there is the perfect example of the Free Trade scenario, and an example of world trade the world trade organization would be proud off.

In spite of all these things it is sad to learn that we have been conveniently forgotten to be given the benefit of dual nationality by the government. But, in my opinion, government has chosen to cut off its link with our 2nd and 3rd generation, who we feel that will be better educated, highly placed, and more respected than us. If the government of India does not revise its policy immediately some one defiantly has to miss out on a lot.