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Congress set to close major loophole in U.S. law banning imports of Burmese gems
New augmented US Law will keep bumese gems off limits

America’s boycott of Burmese gems is about to go from symbolic gesture to substantive action as President Bush signs into law a bill that eliminates a gaping loophole from the previous import ban. The old law allowed Burmese gems cut elsewhere to be exported as products of the processing country. Hence Burmese rubies cut in Thailand could enter America as Thai exports. Last fall, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed bills closing that loophole for imports of Burmese gemstones.

Now, the only thing that remains to be done is for both bodies to reconcile the bills -- an action that is expected to happen very shortly. So, what do these sanctions mean to the gem industry? As we head to Tucson, what effect will tougher sanctions have on ruby sales at this year’s shows? We asked some industry experts for their thoughts. According to Peggy Jo Donahue of JA, “Some of our members have told us that they will decline to add any more Burmese gems to their inventories, but will sell the Burmese gems they have. Other retailers, who are conscious of maintaining consumer confidence in their products, have chosen to remove Burmese gems from their showcases until such time as the Burmese government begins a genuine process of democratic reform.

” The U.S. government must come up with a methodology for determining the market origin of gems for the sanctions to be effective.” If the Burma gem ban has any positive outcome besides starving that country’s junta of badly-need revenues, it could be to promote fair traded gems. Braunwart is one of the leaders in this still embryonic movement. “I believe there will be lots of questions from retailers and manufacturers as to the future impact,” he says. “The ban will definitely choke off Burma ruby sales in the future. Whether there will be sufficient ruby from other documentable origins remains to be seen. Columbia Gem produces Nyala Ruby from Malawi in southern Africa, and we are expanding this production.”

The question remains whether import sanctions on gems are truly one of the best ways to fight the oppressive regime in Burma and to protest its stranglehold on the human rights of the Burmese people. In the meantime, both Braunwart and Hucker believe that the gem industry must take an active role in addressing the Burma issue -- and indeed other social issues that affect the industry. Hucker comments, “The U.S. response to the Burma regime is an issue that is extremely important. The gem industry is taking a look at political and environmental issues and the social responses to those issues. The industry has worked hard not to react too quickly and to work with the government to come up with an appropriate response.”