The US on Tuesday banned trading of diamonds from Zimbabwe in a fresh blow to re-engagement between the two countries.
Zimbabwe expects to produce 4.1-million carats of diamonds in 2019, up from 2.8-million carats in 2018. At the peak of production in 2012, the country’s output was 12-million carats.
However, allegations of gross corruption and looting in the diamond sector have left the country with no meaningful benefits from its diamonds.
Former president Robert Mugabe at one time stated that close to $15bn was suspected to have been looted from the country’s illicit diamond deals.
Russian diamond company Alrosa has signed a deal to explore and mine diamonds in Zimbabwe, as the Southern African nation seeks to leverage its mineral resources to boost the country’s ailing economy.
Zimbabwe has large diamond reserves but mining of the precious stones has been chaotic, with shady dealings rampant and policy flip-flops by the government a turn-off for investors.
Under the new measures, the US has barred the trading of rough diamonds from Zimbabwe, accusing the country of using forced labour at its diamond fields in Marange, in the eastern part of the country.
Zimbabwe has been seeking to mend ties with the US, which has maintained sanctions on Harare for close to two decades over human rights violations and the country’s poor democracy record.
The ban by the US suggests the world’s biggest economy is tightening the sanctions, not relaxing them.
The US ban on Zimbabwe’s diamonds was part of measures that were introduced on Tuesday and also prohibit the importation of specified goods suspected to have been made with forced labour from China, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil.
In a statement, the US embassy in Harare said: “US Customs and Border Protection issued a Withhold Release Order for artisanal rough cut diamonds from Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields on October 1 2019 due to evidence of forced labour. US law prohibits importation of goods made with forced labor.”
On Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s permanent secretary for information, Nick Mangwana, castigated the US and refuted allegations of forced labour in Marange.
“It’s unfortunate that the US authorities have been misinformed or misled to believe that Zimbabwe is mining diamonds through forced labour.
“As a government, we have a very strong revulsion towards any form of slavery or servitude. To even suggest that Zimbabwe has some form of corporate forced labour is either mischievous or simply ignorant.”