Mr. Speaker, in the context of the bill before us concerning the Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act, I would like to begin by noting that it is often said that diamonds are forever. As a result, diamonds become a symbol of eternal love. Indeed, all of the ladies in this House, our colleagues, surely enjoy receiving a diamond as a token of love, but most certainly not a diamond produced by the atrocities of war.
It is in this context that Bill S-36 proposes certain amendments of a basically administrative nature to the Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act.
Essentially, Bill S-36 will have two effects. First, it will authorize the government to compile and distribute data on international trade in diamonds. The adoption of this amendment, which would make the diamond trade more transparent and easier to control, is necessary for Canada to remain in compliance with its international obligations pursuant to the Kimberley process.
Second, it will remove a formality associated with the Kimberley process as regards very small diamonds less than one millimetre in size. In number and in weight, the great majority of the diamonds dealt on the market are tiny. They are not used just to make jewellery, but have more of a utilitarian function. They are to be found, for example, in turntable needles—less and less so, I am told—in watchmaking or in certain industrial knives.
Unlike large diamonds whose scarcity makes their price exorbitant, these diamonds are of no great value, and the administrative burden associated with the Kimberley process can be prohibitive. This proposed amendment will facilitate the diamond trade and is good news for the industry.
I might mention that Canada recently became the world’s third largest diamond producer. In Quebec, even though no diamond mine is yet active, seven mining companies hold licences on such mines, basically in Abitibi, Témiscamingue and the Northwest. Deposits of kimberlite, the ore in which diamonds are found, have been discovered in five sub-regions of Quebec.
The Bloc Québécois is not opposed to this new flexibility in principle, but it intends to ensure, in the course of review in committee, that it will not be introduced to the detriment of achievement of the objectives for which the act was passed, that is, the establishment of fairly tight control so as to prevent trade in conflict diamonds.
Allow me to quote Mr. Ian Smillie of Partnership Africa Canada who said:
In 2000, the international diamond industry produced more than 120 million carats of rough diamonds with a market value of US$7.5 billion. At the end of the diamond chain this bounty was converted into 70 million pieces of jewelry worth close to US$58 billion.
Of total world production, rebel armies in Sierra Leone, as well as in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), are estimated by De Beers to traffic in about 4 per cent. Other estimates place the number higher. Although not a significant proportion of the overall industry, four per cent of $7.5 billion—or whatever other estimate one might use—can buy a lot of weapons.
The Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act ensures that Canada is in compliance with the Kimberley process, an international agreement which has established a process for certifying the origin of rough diamonds. The Kimberley process is basically designed to limit the trade in conflict diamonds, which are sold by armed factions to finance their wars. Because they are small and highly valuable, the diamonds are easy to market and can be very profitable.
In the 1980s, this trade was a veritable scourge, and a major component in the funding of wars that displaced about 10 million people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name just a few.
At first, only a few NGOs were concerned about these conflicts and were critical of the lucrative diamond trade that bankrolled them. In 2000, the UN published a report on the funding of the war in Angola, confirming everything that the NGOs had been proclaiming for years: the diamond trade was being used to finance the war.
Also in 2000, the RUF, the Revolutionary United Front, an armed faction in Sierra Leone, stepped up its attacks on civilians, making Sierra Leone the country with the largest number of displaced persons in the world.
With these two events, the African conflicts and their link to the diamond trade left the back pages and made the headlines.
That is when the countries and the companies that produce diamonds began to get involved. The moment that diamonds become synonymous with war, rape and murder and not with dreams, wealth and eternal love, they lose their core value.
Responding to the invitation of two NGO groups, Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada, 37 countries and the principal diamond merchants agreed to sit down together with the NGOs to find a solution to the problem. The first meeting was held in May 2002 in the city of Kimberley, South Africa: hence the name the Kimberley process.
At the end of a series of meetings, they agreed that the best way to civilize the diamond trade was to put in place a system for certifying the origin of diamonds. Under this system, all diamonds exported from a country participating in the Kimberley process must be placed in a sealed container and accompanied by a government-issued certificate of authenticity called a Kimberley certificate. Importing countries that are participants in the Kimberley process may import only diamonds that are accompanied by this certificate. They may trade in diamonds only with participating countries.
Today the Kimberley process has 45 participants, including the European Union and its 25 members, for a total of 69 countries. These countries account for 99% of the legal international trade in diamonds.
To the NGOs who started this initiative and succeeded in transforming an awareness campaign into binding rules of international law, the Bloc Québécois says: well done. Without taking anything away from the other NGOs who have joined the movement and made it the success that it is, the Bloc Québécois wishes to specifically salute the work, clear-sightedness and tenacity of the two NGOs who got this initiative under way, Global Witness and Partnership Africa Canada.
It is necessary to proceed with amendments to the Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act. From the outset, the Bloc Québécois has demonstrated keen support for the Kimberley process. In the fall of 2002, it lent immediate support to the bill on the export and import of rough diamonds, Bill C-14, which was intended to bring Canadian practice into compliance with the Kimberley process.
The Bloc Québécois continues to support the Kimberley process and will support the initiatives to make it more efficient and effective. Many of the amendments contained in Bill S-36 are the product of the discussions of the plenary session of Kimberley process participants held at the Lac-Leamy Hilton in Gatineau in 2004. Their adoption is necessary for Canada to remain in compliance with the Kimberley obligations. Most of the amendments in Bill S-36 are in fact designed to facilitate application of the process.
For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill S-36 in principle and will vote in favour of it at second reading.
However, there are many shortcomings in Bill S-36.
Bill S-36 was introduced before Parliament could do a serious review of the current control mechanism. The Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act requires the government to carry out a complete review of the operation and effects of the act three years after its coming into force and submit a report to Parliament.
Next January, the act will have been in effect for three years. The government will therefore submit a complete review of it, its operation and weaknesses, by January. By that time, Bill S-36 will probably have already been passed, if that is the wish of the House of Commons. In fact, some of these provisions must be in effect before next January 1 in order for Canada to remain in compliance with the Kimberley process and be able to continue exporting diamonds.
This way of doing things, in which the government starts by introducing amendments to the act and only afterwards tells us about the weaknesses in it is not a normal way of proceeding. The government is in a minority situation and can no longer permit itself to think that a majority of the members of the House are at its command and will pass anything that it proposes, even without having the requisite information.
The Bloc Québécois expects the government to issue its review of the Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act and submit it to Parliament before Bill S-36 is considered in committee. However, even under Bill S-36, Canada is content with the minimum obligations under the Kimberley process. This process sets forth a series of minimum obligations that the participating countries must meet. Exported diamonds must be placed in sealed, tamper-resistant containers. The certificates of authenticity must contain certain information: the origin of the diamonds, the identity of the merchant, the total weight of the lot in carats, and so forth.
In regard to the Export and Import of Rough Diamonds Act, Canada decided to content itself with meeting the minimal obligations under the Kimberley process, even though it was free to go further. For example, in the information required on the Kimberley certificate, Canada is content to require the total weight of the lot. However, 20 ten-carat diamonds are worth 30 times as much as 400 diamonds of only 0.5 carats, even though both lots add up to 200 carats.
At present, an importer can very easily buy a lot of small diamonds on the legal market, replace them with large stones bought cheap on the black market, then sell them again with no problem, since his Kimberley certificate does not contain the information that could be used to spot the swindle. This dishonest importer will be able to make an enormous profit, while at the same time laundering an entire lot of conflict diamonds.
Has this in fact happened? We cannot know. What we do know, however, is that in 2003 Canada imported rough diamonds valued at $703,820, from India. It exported nearly $200,000 worth of them to the same country. The import value per carat was $162; the export value was $392. While this may simply be explained by the return of undesired gems of great value, or by exports unrelated to the imports, there might also be something fishy going on here.
If the Canadian certificate contained certain optional information provided for in the process, such as the number of stones over two carats in size, this sort of stratagem would no longer be possible.
The Bloc Québécois is counting on the committee hearings to see if it might be possible to make the act more effective.
The real weakness of a Kimberley process is the lack of resources dedicated to control in the poor countries and the lack of assistance the latter are being offered by the rich countries.
The participating countries have all had to pass legislation to bring their trade practices into line with the requirements of the process. Unfortunately, controls are lacking. The state apparatus is often disorganized, and civil servants who are underpaid, or not paid at all, are vulnerable to corruption. In conclusion, even the most perfect system on paper cannot function if it does not have the necessary resources.
For example, in 2003 the Congo was suspended from the Kimberley process because its civil servants had issued certificates representing two and a half times the country’s diamond production. Clearly, many of those diamonds were from neighbouring conflict-ridden countries, probably the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Congo was caught out, but how many other countries serve as transit routes for conflict diamonds from the Congo, Côte-d'Ivoire, Burundi or elsewhere? What is urgently required is a substantial increase in international aid to permit states to function as they should.
Furthermore, it is not by chance that wars are going on mainly in the poor countries. Where the population is living in the most abject poverty, the ground is fertile for the creation of armed factions and the onset of civil war. Even if Canada were to pass the best law in the world on the diamond trade, it would not stamp out the problem—not without a substantial boost to its international aid envelope.
In 1993, when the present Prime Minister became Minister of Finance, Canada was allocating 0.43% of its GNP to international aid, making it the sixth most generous donor in the OECD. When he left the Department of Finance in 2002, Canada was allocating only 0.23% of its GDP and had slipped to 17th out of a total of 29. At its current pace of increase, Canada will not achieve the UN target—which however it has accepted—of 0.7% of GNP for international aid until 2033.
The government can boast of its role in the Kimberley process, but not until it is a serious contributor to the war on world poverty can it say that it is playing a role in conflict pacification.
We must take inspiration from the Kimberley process to promote equitable globalization. In the commercial realm, the Kimberley process is a remarkable innovation. It introduces considerations other than commercial and economic ones into the trade rules. The NGO campaign has been such a success that it has become indecent to oppose it, to the point that the WTO had to amend its rules in January 2003, barely four weeks after the Kimberley process came into effect.
The amendments to the WTO rules allow member states to ban the import of conflict diamonds. Their rules do not, however, allow restrictions on the importing of products manufactured by children or by prisoners of conscience in labour camps or virtual slaves exploited in factories where basic labour rights do not exist, nor those produced with total lack of concern for environmental destruction.
For years now, the Bloc Québécois has been calling for the government to propose the inclusion of such humane, social and environmental considerations in trade agreements. For years now, the government has demurred, on the pretense that these non-trade considerations have no place in trade agreements.
Had that logic prevailed in connection with conflict diamonds, the Kimberley process would be illegal according to WTO rules. When will we see a Kimberley for child labour? For forced labour? For environmental destruction and the forced displacement of aboriginal nations?
The proposed amendments will, of course, be examined in committee. As I have said, we are favourably disposed to them but there is still much room for improvement.