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Indian diamond industry: Looking forward

22 february 2021

Lately, the Indian diamond industry, on the whole, had been reeling with the effects of the implementation of GST and demonetization with several diamond polishers losing their jobs. The Indian diamond trade has asked the Government for an amendment in taxation provisions to allow the sale of rough diamonds in the Special Notified Zone (SNZ) in Mumbai; and exemption of two-per cent equalization levy on rough diamond sales. According to industry members, miners could pay a ‘turnover tax’ not exceeding 0.16%, which is the prevailing rate in Belgium. Labourers are also demanding implementation of labour laws and Factory Acts in the diamond factories, claiming that around 10 polishers across the state had committed suicide in the last few months due to joblessness.

On the other hand, the Government of India has been organizing awareness programmes for the diamond industry. The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises of the Government of India organised an awareness programme on Lean Manufacturing Competitiveness scheme at the Surat Diamond Association recently.

As of now, with the markets opening worldwide after the COVID-19 lockdown, the gems and jewellery industry seems to be in recovery mode and exports have begun to markets in the United States, China, Hong Kong, Europe and other countries. The Indian diamond industry is optimistic about exports picking up after lockdown, as there are initial signs of recovery from markets in the US, China and Europe… and export orders have seen a steady rise over the past 4-5 months. The gems and jewellery export units are working in full swing and trade is getting back to normal recovery of exports.

The Indian diamond industry received a big supporting gesture by both the biggest miners, ALROSA and De Beers, who have been more than helpful to the Indian rough diamond importers; and thereby supporting the diamond manufacturing sector in Surat as well as other smaller sectors in the country. Both miners extended the existing long term rough supply contracts by a quarter, thus easing the financial pressure on the importers and helping in the industry diluting the stocked up inventory in the Indian industry… in both rough and polished stones.

India’s cut and polished diamond exports declined 19.60 per cent registering $ 1564 mn during Sept 2020 as against $ 1946 mn exported in Sept 2019. Rough imports during Sept 2020 increased 16.18 per cent to $ 1347.30 mn as compared to $ 1159.63 mn imported during Sept 2019.

So, to boost exports from India, the GJEPC lined up many Virtual Events during the last couple of months, including its flagship event IIJS 2020… adopting technologies to drive growth with a vengeance, if you will. The five-day jewellery extravaganza which commenced on Oct 12, 2020, concluded on Oct 16 and has been one of a kind experience for all the exhibitors and visitors. It is estimated that approximately $137 mn business was transacted at IIJS Virtual.

Commenting on the success of the show, Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC said, “The past five days of IIJS Virtual have been nothing short of miraculous. We have witnessed IIJS bring the industry out from a pandemic paralysis -- that, too, virtually! The industry realised that one needs to change along with the time and for business sustainability, extensive usage of digital was the need of the hour.”

The first Diamond Studded Jewellery Virtual Buyer-Seller Meet organised by the GJEPC from 25 to 28 November 2020 was a hit with buyers from the UK, the USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Russia participating in the event. Following this, many more VBSMs were put on the anvil.

Now, the Indian G&J industry which has seen many ups and downs and has recovered unscathed in the past is forging ahead with the same resilience. Nearly 650,000 workers in Surat have decided to forego holiday for Diwali so that they can fulfil the overseas orders for Christmas and New Year on time, as demand has begun to increase from US, UAE and many other consuming countries.

Also, diamond mining companies, ALROSA and De Beers, have also offered support to the Indian industry. ALROSA gave zero buyout obligation to its long-term customers of rough diamonds in the trading session from September 21 to 25 as well as supply contracts through the end of Q1 2021.

While the government of India has also been supportive to the G&J industry The Union Minister of Commerce & Industry and Railway, Shri Piyush Goyal and Chief Minister of Maharashtra Shri Uddhav Thackeray praised the industry and offered all assistance in the future.

The Indian jewellery exporters, on the other hand, were struggling to fulfil the orders because of a lack of skilled workers, especially in Mumbai, SEEPZ area. The partial opening up of jewellery manufacturing units in SEZs have helped the industry to execute the pending orders from the pre-COVID period.

There was a tremendous shortage of manpower in SEZs and at the moment, working 2-3 shifts is the only answer to bridging the gap between increasing orders and the lack of workers. For the safety of the artisans, safety guidelines set by the Government like sanitizing the units, making sure artisans follow the stringent social distancing protocols were followed.

However, the industry is currently discussing with the Government regarding introduction of Ecommerce policy for the gem and jewellery sector, Priority Sector Status for the sector to bring in operational benefits; reduction in import duty on polished diamonds, and modifications to the Gold Monetisation Scheme and other concerns.

The Indian Government has been very supportive during the COVID phase and has come up with a series of reforms so that the industry could cope up with the current situation. Recently, the Govt. announced an extension of certified diamond re-import period by 3 months, which was a great relief to traders. GJEPC has also proposed direct sale of rough diamonds by miners in the Special Notified Zones (SNZs) in India.

At the recently concluded India International Jewellery Show (IIJS) Virtual, retailers were stocking diamond and gold jewellery for the upcoming festive and wedding season. It is estimated that around Rs. 10 billion business was transacted at IIJS Virtual. Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC, said, “In India, sales would be driven by factors like postponed engagements and marriages, festivities and other gifting occasions. Moreover, consumers now have disposable income, which was earlier spent on travelling and vacations. Some of this will get diverted to jewellery.” Sanjay Shah, Convener, Diamond Panel, GJEPC, said, “We are expecting a rise in demand for diamond jewellery in Q4 for the celebratory occasions. Retailers are anticipating that consumers will want to buy diamond jewellery which is unique and can be worn for multiple events."

At the recently held ninth online Forevermark Forum, the company shared some heartening results of research undertaken to assess the mood of the buyer. It revealed that while Indian consumers are cautious about their spending, they have a very strong appreciation for diamonds. It is confident these activities will propel stronger sales for its 100-odd Indian partners.

The Indian retailers are also happy to cash in on the surge in demand for diamond-studded jewellery in the bridal segment for the upcoming wedding season. Layering chokers with lariats or modular options indicate that young brides are practical and want jewellery that can be worn on other occasions as well. Ajoy Chawla, CEO, Jewellery Division, Titan Company, said that Tanishq is seeing 85% recovery over last year at an overall level and more than 70% recovery on buyer level. Happy with the sales recovery, he believes things will improve.

Suvankar Sen, Executive Director, Senco Gold Ltd., comments, “Consumer sentiments towards diamonds are picking up with time. Initially, it was more of gold but as we move into the festive season, women will look forward to buying diamonds to get out of their anxiety. Both pret wear or bridal, increasing gold prices makes diamond jewellery in 14 -karat more affordable.”

GJEPC chairman Colin Shah stated that manufacturing activities have been back to 89 per cent following all safety measures as per the government guidelines."We are extremely optimistic that in the third and fourth quarters, with orders coming in from the US, Hong Kong, the Middle East and other Asian countries, we slowly and surely will get back to the pre-Covid level, and even on the path of recovery," he said.

GJEPC vice chairman Vipul Shah said COVID-19 is an unprecedented situation that was never faced before and collectively, the gems and jewellery industry has shown that challenge is adding value to the situation. "The industry is making optimum use of digital means to deal on the day to day basis, or the industry has been quick to add up to the new normal. The central government and the state governments have played a crucial role in helping the industry to cope with the situation," he added.

Looking forward, the Indian diamond industry is not leaving any stone unturned to return to its former self. India’s cut and polished diamond export increased 42.47 per cent registering $ 1665.91 mn during Nov 2020 as against $ 1169.34 mn exported in Nov 2019, according to provisional data released by the Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India.

 Exports of rough diamonds totalled $ 13.62 mn in Nov 2020 as compared to $ 94.51 mn in Nov 2019, an increase of 85.59 per cent. Exports of polished lab-grown diamonds recorded $ 69.29 mn in Nov 2020 against $ 21.80 mn in Nov 2019, an increase of 217.62 per cent.

 Rough imports during Nov 2020 decreased 9.89 per cent to $ 1109.06 mn as compared to $ 1230.74 mn imported during Nov 2019. Imports of cut and polished diamonds decreased to $95.50 mn in Nov 2020 from $ 117.85 mn in the same month in 2019, a decrease of 18.97 per cent. Imports of rough lab-grown diamonds stood at $ 62.23 mn in Nov 2020, up 23.78 per cent from $ 20.69 mn in Nov 2019. In Nov 2020, imports of polished lab-grown diamonds decreased by 80.32 per cent to $ 1.93 mn, as compared to $ 9.79 mn a year earlier.

During the fiscal year (April-November 2020) polished diamond exports recorded $ 8951.54 mn from $ 13412.51 mn exported over the same months in 2019, a decrease of 33.26 per cent.

The road ahead for the Indian diamond industry is a mixed picture of sorts. In the coming years, growth in gems and jewellery sector would largely be contributed by the development of large retailers/brands. Established brands are guiding the organised market and are opening opportunities to grow. Increasing penetration of organised players provides variety in terms of products and designs.

Online sales are expected to account for 1–2% of the fine jewellery segment by 2021–22. Also, the relaxation of restrictions of gold import is likely to provide a fillip to the industry. The improvement in availability along with the reintroduction of low-cost gold metal loans and likely stabilisation of gold prices at lower levels is expected to drive volume growth for jewellers over short to medium term. The demand for jewellery is expected to be significantly supported by the recent positive developments in the industry. Meanwhile, the BDB board has recommended removing “natural” from its definition of diamonds, bringing it in line with industry standards.

The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) has urged the Finance Minister to reduce import duties on diamonds and precious metals in the forthcoming Budget 2022 to be presented early next year. According to GJEPC, this was a key area that would help in strengthening the ongoing revival of exports from the sector.

The following have been put before the Indian government by the Indian industry:

The effective levies on imports stand at 7.5% for cut and polished diamonds and 12.5% for gold, silver and platinum are obstacles for further expansion of local units manufacturing for export purposes.The duty structure for diamonds which was raised from the then prevailing 2.5% to 5% in February 2018 and then 7.5% in September that year, was much higher than the rates in other key centres such as Antwerp and Israel, impacting global competitiveness of the Indian industry.

Regarding the Online Equalisation Levy of 2% on e-commerce imports introduced by the government recently, GJEPC has urged the FM to exempt international B2B diamond auctions from this tax. Though these auctions are conducted through an online interface, it should be clarified that they should not attract this levy as they are mainly a raw material for exports. In the absence of official clarity, large miners are amending contracts with their regular Indian clients to cover this levy, while many others are barring Indian firms from taking part in B2B spot auctions.

The industry has also urged the government to remove the 0.5% Basic Customs duty on import of rough coloured gemstones, pointing out that converting these rough goods into polished gemstones gives an 8-10% yield, rendering stones manufactured in India 5% costlier in the world markets.

GJEPC also called for an amendment to the tax provisions to allow the direct sale of rough diamonds in the Special Notified Zone (SNZ) in Mumbai through the introduction of a turnover linked tax similar to that levied in other global centres.

The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC) of India will organise the International Gem & Jewellery Show (e-IGJS) in a virtual format. It will be the first-ever export-oriented show only for international buyers. The show is scheduled from 18th to 22nd January 2021.

Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC said, “GJEPC felt that the time was right to organise e-IGJS, a show exclusively meant for foreign buyers to source high-quality products in a variety of exquisite designs. Global markets like the US, Europe, China and other Asian countries are witnessing increasing demand for gems and jewellery.”

Vipul Shah, Vice Chairman, GJEPC, stated, “GJEPC’s virtual trading platforms have been redefining the way we do business. By offering an enhanced customer experience, e-IGJS will bring together all Indian gem and jewellery exporters on a single platform to showcase their skills and capabilities in manufacturing top-quality gems and jewellery, catering to different markets.”

Key benefits for exhibitors include: 6000+ meeting opportunities with leading international buyers, receive a meeting request from buyers, exhibitors can search registered buyers and send a meeting request, priority listing for exhibitors who book space early, and options of 3 booth package. Buyers are expected from countries across the globe.

The e-IGJS will see participation from 200+ exhibitors, who will be showcasing Fine Jewellery, Plain Gold Jewellery, Studded Jewellery, Platinum Jewellery, Silver Jewellery, Loose Diamonds, Gemstones, Fashion Jewellery and more.

In another ‘ease to do business’ facility, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has issued a circular clarifying that extant regulations do not restrict exports of gems and jewellery through the courier mode and such restrictions only apply to imports. In other words, the Indian gems and jewellery exporters have been permitted to send their goods across the globe to their buyers using the convenience of cost-effective and reliable courier services, as per businessindia.in.

This would mean that gems and jewellery exports could be done through courier services following all other regulations in place for such exports. Earlier, the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council represented before CBIC seeking clarification on whether gems and jewellery are allowed to be exported through courier under the Courier Imports and Exports (Electronic Declaration and Processing) Regulations, 2010 as also the Courier Imports and Exports (Clearance) Regulations, 1998.

The Gem and Jewellery sector has shown signs of revival in exports after a long 8 months of struggle due to the COVID-19 pandemic, says a report in gjepc.org. The November 2020 gross exports of Gems & Jewellery reported $ 2.48 bn, a mere 3.88 per cent decline as compared to the gross exports of $2.58 bn in November 2019. Overall gross exports however this fiscal year since April to November 2020 has been reported $13.95 bn, which has declined by over 44.37 per cent as compared with $25.08 bn gross exports reported the same period in April – November 2019.

Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC, said, “The gems and jewellery exports have gained momentum, with exports recorded at USD 2.5 Bn for the last couple of months. Manufacturing is returned to almost 90% as rough diamond imports witnessed 69% growth in October. Considering the encouraging market demands and the current rate of growth, the sector is expected to record exports to pre-COVID level numbers in the last quarter.”

Vipul Shah, Vice Chairman, GJEPC, said: “The fast recovery of the Indian gem and jewellery industry is due to a combination of many factors: the government implemented timely policy measures; central banks injected sufficient liquidity into the system; mining companies supported midstream segment; demand has picked up from the major market, the US; and strong online sales have compensated for the weak performance of physical stores”.

The Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India (GJEPC) has proposed reforms to the Government of India concerning the gems and jewellery turnover. In its Budget recommendations, the Indian diamond industry has sought the following urgent policy reforms, including reduction in import duty on cut and polished diamonds from 7.5% to 2.5%; amendment in taxation provisions to allow the sale of rough diamonds in the Special Notified Zone (SNZ) in Mumbai; and exemption of two-per cent equalisation levy on rough diamond sales.

Commenting on the reforms proposed, Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC said, “We do not have any natural advantage of rough diamonds, but India has achieved this position because of its proficiency in cutting and polishing rough diamonds. In 2019, India imported maximum rough diamonds of around 157 million carats for processing. India can sustain this position and further scale new heights. The Council has requested the Finance Minister that if customers in India choose to confirm their orders, an invoice can be made within the SNZ. Miners could pay a ‘turnover tax’ not exceeding 0.16%, the prevailing rate in Belgium.”

The Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India (GJEPC) organized the Diamond Studded Jewellery VBSM from 25 – 28 November 2020. Buyers were expected from the UK, the USA, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Russia, according to the press release from the Council. Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC, said, “Buyers are gradually getting used to the virtual platforms, and business transactions have been taking place across the Virtual Buyer Seller Meets for Loose Diamonds, Plain Gold Jewellery organised so far.”

GJEPC will manage, schedule and run video meetings directly through the GJEPC VBSM website platform, as per the scheduled dates and time. After the online matching of buyer and seller products, each meeting schedule between buyer and seller will be arranged for approximately 45 minutes; and in a day only 3 to 4 meetings will be planned between a buyer and seller. Meeting IDs will be created for each exhibitor, which will be shared with the buyer, to meet online at a scheduled time and discuss their business.

India International Jewellery Show (IIJS) Virtual 2020, powered by GIA, organized by the Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India (GJEPC), concluded on October 16, 2020. IIJS Virtual 2020 was promoted extensively across the world. Over 50 National and International web roadshows, 450+ exhibitor training sessions, and 100+ buyer tutorial sessions were conducted before the start of the show.

It is estimated that approximately $137 mn business was transacted at IIJS Virtual. Commenting on the success of the show, Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC said, “GJEPC has done its bit to provide the necessary platform so that the export continues. The Industry today has seen a very robust digital disruption and I’m certain that digital mode of doing business is the future for the industry.”

Vipul Shah, Vice Chairman, GJEPC, said, “IIJS Virtual 2020 has stimulated business for the sector. Buyers from across the world were looking for a platform to source gem and jewellery for the upcoming festive season, and we are happy that GJEPC has been able to create a platform for all to meet, network and do business in a safe and secured manner.”

Shailesh Sangani, Convener, National Exhibitions, GJEPC, said, “Meeting face-to-face at physical shows and expositions is very important and must happen at least once or twice a year, but virtual shows are going to be the future, purely because of the ease in doing business from the comfort of our own offices and homes.” Sabyasachi Ray, Executive Director, GJEPC, says, “We realised that we would have to train buyers how to conduct business on IIJS Virtual and serviced 8,000 visitors by assigning 60 people, each handling around 150 people on WhatsApp. In just 40 days, we conducted 40 roadshows, tying up with different associations for training sessions. We created modules and training videos and gradually the ramping up happened across India.”

Investors in diamonds are growing by the day in India. Of late, the demand for Argyle pink diamonds in India has gone up almost three times compared to last year. The country’s high net worth individuals (HNWI) are rushing to grab an Argyle pink diamond before Rio Tinto’s Argyle mine in Australia closes down operations by the end of the year. According to Indian diamond traders, there are business families and HNWI from places like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad who are aware of the rarity of Argyle pink diamond and are keen to own one. Besides being a collector’s item, pink diamonds are a valuable investment too. Every year, the price of the Argyle pink diamond has witnessed double-digit growth. And once the availability dries up, prices are expected to shoot up further.

Another noticeable trend in India is that the gem and jewelry sector is increasingly turning to digital channels to drive business during these challenging times. Since COVID-19 began, small business under $3.4 million have increased 55%, while digital contributed just about contributed 11% to 25% of total revenue before the virus. In addition, approximately 60% of businesses noted adopting digital selling helped them weather the pandemic-induced stress, and 40% said it boosted their sales. Those that had begun selling online were also more positive about their near-term business situation compared with those that had not taken that route.

GJEPC hosted its buyer and seller meet in a virtual format for the first time, amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The two-day buyer-seller Meet in early September was a success with many companies participating eagerly. The inauguration of the 2-day Meet was attended by Shri Suresh Kumar, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, Shri Senthil Nathan, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. Buyers from Australia, Bangladesh, China, Colombia, Europe, Middle East, Russia, CIS, South Africa, South Asia, UK, and the USA participated.

After months of disruptions due to COVID-19, the Indian diamond industry has begun showing signs of a gradual recovery in the diamond cutting centres and jewellery units in SEZs, as demand gradually picked up in global consumer markets. With confidence returning to the resilient Indian diamond industry, the Industry leaders are taking all steps to bring the industry back to its former position of the world’s diamond manufacturing and trading hub.

The GJEPC of India also organized a virtual meeting under the UNCUT 2020 Webinar series. Speakers including Paul Rowley, Executive Vice-President, Diamond Trading De Beers Group from London, Evgeny Agureev, Deputy CEO, ALROSA from Moscow, Mrs Rupa Dutta, Economic Adviser, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Government of India from Delhi, Sanjay Shah, Convener, Diamond Panel Committee, GJEPC from Mumbai participated live with Colin Shah, Chairman, GJEPC moderating the hour-long discussion. Numerous issues faced by the diamond industry were discussed to find solutions collectively.

With GJEPC Chairman Colin Shah spearheading the discussion, cooperation was sought from the major miners, the Indian government’s support was also pointed as the “need for providing a clear picture of the financial strain on the diamantaires, especially the MSMEs and also pointing out the voluntary ceasing of rough imports by the industry members to bring balance to the overall inventory of rough and polished stones.” Colin Shah addressed both the mining companies’ officials, asking them of the steps their companies intend to take in terms of easing their clients’ purchasing terms during these challenging times.

Offering support to the Indian clients, Paul Rowley of De Beers expressed his company's readiness to give necessary help. ALROSA’s Evgeny Agureev too agreed that his company is well aware of the situation and will go all out to support the rough buyers in all possible way.

To provide a perspective on the Indian diamond industry, Colin Shah asked Sanjay Shah, convener, Diamond Panel for his views on the Indian diamond industry. Sanjay gave a clear picture of the low demand situation as well as the price pattern in the market right now, adding that demand would dip to 30 to 40 per cent during the coming festive season in India as gold demand is always higher than diamond.

Colin Shah also requested the Central Government’s Commerce Ministry Economic Advisor Mrs Rupa Dutta to look into the matter of the current tax structure that was impeding miners to execute direct supply through SNZs; as well as the depletion of bank finance to the industry members. While promising all support from the government to find a solution to the issues, Mrs Dutta, however, reminded that as the industry/product come under luxury sector, the diamond industry should also work with integrity and exercise self-prudence and transparency in doing business.

As per media reports, the domestic retail diamond demand is gradually growing in tier I cities and diamond retail sales got back to 70-80 per cent of pre-COVID level by October-November last year. “After two months of a washout due to lockdown, pent up demand lasted for a few weeks. Then top cities lagged but business in tier II cities was 50-70% of the pre-COVID level by July,” said Sanchi Jain of Forevermark. "In the last fortnight, we and demand from top cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are coming back strongly from 30-50 per cent in the previous months," he added.

India’s gems and jewellery sector is one of the largest in the world, contributing 29% to global jewellery consumption. The sector is home to more than 300,000 gems and jewellery players. Its market size will grow by $ 103.06 billion during 2019–2023.

India’s demand for gold reached 690.4 tonnes in 2019. India's gems and jewellery export stood at $ 29.07 billion in FY20. In the same period, India exported cut and polished diamonds worth $ 18.66 billion, thereby contributing 52.4% to the total gems and jewellery export. India’s import of gems and jewellery stood at $ 24.41 billion in FY20. India is one of the largest exporters of gems and jewellery and the industry is considered to play a vital role in the Indian economy as it contributes a major chunk to the country’s foreign reserves. The Goods and Services Tax (GST) will steer India’s gold demand going forward.

With Lab-Grown Diamonds (LGD) manufacturing growth in India, one can predict the rather interesting game plan among diamond manufacturers in India. Many companies have cropped up in India, especially in Surat, for cutting and polishing lab-grown roughs. Several well-know natural diamond manufacturers have also entered LGD manufacturing, as they see good business possibilities in that sector. During year 2019, 2019, particularly, was the year for lab-grown diamonds. India, alone, witnessed a sharp rise in LGD exports worth $443 million, which were up by 102% y/y. Even at the start of 2020, lab-grown diamond exports in India were up by 60% y/y, while natural diamond exports were down by 41% y/y.

In another surprising move, Mumbai’s Bharat Diamond Bourse (BDB), which for years had banned trading of LGDs in the bourse, may soon allow lab-grown diamond trading. BDB members are due to vote on the matter.

BDB had banned synthetics in 2015 but has been reconsidering the rule for more than two years and holding talks with India’s Natural Diamond Monitoring Committee on how to keep watch of the trade. The board reportedly received numerous requests for a meeting in which members could pass the amendment, according to the report.

The Bharat Diamond Bourse (BDB) members during the Annual General Meeting held on 28 December, have in principle approved the trading of lab-grown diamonds (LGDs) within the BDB. However, members cannot start trading in LGDs just yet. The BDB Managing Committee will now draw up a set of guidelines to be followed by members who wish to trade in LGDs.

Wrapping up, one can conclude that the Indian G&J industry is confident to move ahead despite the pandemic and return to its robust self, going forward; and also double India's exports of gems and jewellery to $70 bn by 2025. 

Aruna Gaitonde, Editor in Chief of the Asian Bureau, Rough&Polished