Finally, direct flights between the world’s two biggest diamond trade centers will take off next week to add some sparkle on the faces of dealers in precious stones on both sides.
Air India Express, the international budget arm of India’s flagship carrier airline, is all set to launch a thrice-a-week service to connect Surat, the global hub of diamond cutting and polishing industry in western Indian state of Gujarat, with Dubai, the second largest market in the world for rough diamond trading.
According to local parliamentarian C.R. Paatil, the last stumbling block for the jinxed project will be removed when the country’s diamond city is accorded the customs notified status by the federal government within in a few days.
The international flights between the two diamond hubs were to be started from May 15 last but it took one year to expand the runway from 2,250 meters to 2,950 meters and provide the required funds and 68-strong immigration staff to the airport of Surat where some 80 per cent of the world's rough diamonds are processed in its 4,500-odd small and large cutting-and-polishing units.
An Air India Express official told Al Arabiya English that the airline would deploy 189-seater Boeing 737-800 aircraft and expected a 50-60 per cent seat occupancy on the route initially, adding that Surat would be air-linked to also Sharjah by October.
As per the rough estimate provided by the tours and travel association, around 400,000 people from Surat and south Gujarat travelled to international destinations during 2015-16. The passenger traffic from the region is increasing by almost 20-25 per cent every year.
If Dinesh Navadia, Gujarat chairman of the Gems and Jewelry Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), is to be believed, at present, some 40 traders from the port city drive down to Mumbai daily to catch a flight to Dubai for buying rough diamonds and return to Mumbai in the evening.
They often visit the City of Gold also to hold road shows to invite diamond dealers there to open offices in the world’s largest diamond bourse coming up in Surat, the world’s fourth fastest-growing city.
Indeed, for diamond traders and jewelry makers in India’s Rs 900-billion diamond industry, Dubai remains an important trade centre for pearls what with a growing portion of trade in rough diamonds gradually getting shifted from the Belgian port city of Antwerp to Dubai, a constituent of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Gateway to Africa
Dubai is also the gateway to African countries. The De Beers sight holders – authorized bulk buyers – from Surat can directly catch flights from Dubai to Botswana to attend the De Beers’s sight sales (sales process to distribute diamonds to diamond cutters) at Gabarone.
With a direct Surat-Dubai air-link, foreign buyers can now straightway visit the diamond factories in Surat from Dubai. Besides UAE-based banks promising finance to merchants, Dubai is emerging as a top-drawer diamond trading center due to its proximity to India, the world's largest importer of rough gemstones.
The City of Gold also has the advantage of being located at the natural crossroads of the world’s major markets, both in terms of time zone and proximity.
Earlier, the rough diamond cutting and polishing business had moved from Antwerp to Surat, also India’s third cleanest city, and a few other places, due to cost considerations.
Now, in the last three years, Dubai has become the second biggest market for rough diamond trading, with many Indian diamond companies and leading export houses setting up offices at the Dubai Multi Commodity Centre (DMCC).
DMCC, the entry and exit point for roughs, is a dedicated global centre for more than 15,000 businesses from a wide range of industries and sectors, as diverse as agro, energy and financial services to diamonds, gold and base metals.
A unique combination of free zone status, state-of-the-art commercial and residential property and top-tier commodities and final services, etc. put DMCC in a class of its own. The Gold Souk of Dubai and the DMCC had last year formed an alliance with the Gujarat government to help establish the diamond bourse in Surat by 2021.
The Rs 1,250-billion bourse comprising 22 inter-connected 20-floor buildings and housing 10,000 offices will attract buyers from across the world to Surat to plan and execute business transactions at one place.
According to diamond baron Vallabh Patel, chairman of Kiran Gems and brain behind the bourse project, around 80 per cent of the offices in the bourse have been booked by the diamantaires in Surat but there are many from Dubai as well as Mumbai, Antwerp, Israel, Hong Kong, etc.
In India, of the imported sparklers, only 8 percent is consumed domestically while the rest is exported after cutting and polishing.
GJEPC data shows that India’s polished diamond exports have risen by 29 percent compared to the previous year and the overall exports from the gem and jewelry sector increased by 4.08 per cent. Only a year ago, the country’s jewelry exports to the UAE totaled $5,520 million, compared to $1670 million to the US.
From virtually next to nothing at the beginning of the century, UAE's share in diamond imports climbed to $5.9 billion in 2014, compared with $16 billion for Antwerp.