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With the Chair of the Kimberley Process (KP) passing to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on January 1, 2011, the spotlight has been turned on the central African nation. In many respects, it is a country that could benefit greatly from the foreign income generated by orderly diamond trade. Its citizens are among the poorest in the world, with one of the lowest rates of income per person despite the fact that it is regarded as one of the richest countries due to its wide range of natural resources.
Indeed, the DRC's deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth more than $24 trillion. To put that into perspective, it is equal to the annual gross domestic product of the United States and the European Union combined. But the DRC has been a chronic underperformer as a diamond producer. According to Kimberley Process statistics, the country produced 21.3 million carats of diamonds in 2009, but they were mainly industrial quality goods, worth just $225.8 million. Its exports in the same year were 18.3 million carats worth $248.4 million.
Industry sources say the DRC's exports last year slipped to 16.9 million carats worth $288 million. In 2007, the country produced 32 million carats, but output has slumped as foreign mining firms have withdrawn from the country. "Most companies that were once there have left," said a source with extensive knowledge of the country's diamond mining industry and contacts with senior officials. "As a result, companies do not invest so the country cannot know …