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World Federation Of Diamond Bourses

Interview with Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Office, DMCC

Q. Tell us about your journey in the diamond industry. How did you arrive at where you are now?

My journey in the diamond industry has been largely tied to that of DMCC. Since DMCC’s inception in 2002, I have developed life-long relationships with some of the industry’s key players, including, of course, members of the WFDB. From Israel and India to the US, China, and Africa, I have been fortunate enough to travel the world, always with the aim of boosting global diamond trade, and by extension, Dubai’s role as a central hub.

An integral part of my journey has been with the Dubai Diamond Exchange, or DDE which now boasts the largest diamond tender facility in the world. Ultimately, the DDE has played a significant role in building DMCC and Dubai as substantial players in the global diamond industry. Today, we are the proud home of over 22,000 member companies, over 1,200 of which are operating in the diamond industry.

Q. How did DMCC become a global diamond trading center, when did it begin and where is it now?

The DMCC journey started in 2002 as a startup free zone with a handful of member companies. At that time, there was virtually no diamond trade in Dubai. And in the two decades since then, we have successfully built one of the largest and fastest-growing business districts in the world, with a particular focus on commodities. We have done this by providing the optimal environment for businesses to access new markets and grow their operations.

From the outset, our goal at DMCC has been to transform Dubai into a global hub for trade of commodities, including diamond and precious metals.

DMCC identified and capitalised on significant opportunities in the diamond industry, and through our hard work over the past 20 years, we have built up the total diamond trade in the UAE to a value of just over USD 32 billion in 2021 for rough and polished imports and exports. This growth shows no signs of slowing down; we are now moving to grow the polished segment to make the UAE the largest global trade hub for rough and polished combined.

Q. What do you think are the main factors that have enabled Dubai to become a major diamond and commodity trading center?

Dubai’s success in the diamond industry boils down to three critical areas: geographic location and connectivity, facilities, and a supportive operating environment.

Dubai is located right at the heart of the diamond trade, meaning the emirate can connect the major producing countries in Africa with manufacturing centres in India and consumer markets across the United States, Europe and Asia. This is a unique advantage over any other diamond hub across the world.

To seize this geographic opportunity, DMCC has established an environment that adds value to every aspect of the diamond industry. From supporting and adopting the latest technologies in diamond manufacturing to building the largest diamond tender facility in the world, the Dubai Diamond Exchange, DMCC has ensured that the entire industry can thrive and succeed in Dubai.

This is underpinned by an operating environment that facilitates success, including the Reverse Charge Mechanism for VAT on diamonds and gold and an ever-growing number of trade finance solutions available for diamond businesses.

Q. What is the current situation in the Dubai diamond industry? Has Covid and the war in Ukraine impacted the local industry?

Dubai’s diamond industry is among the largest in the world, growing from a solid foundation into a position of increased strength. In early 2022, we announced that the UAE became the world’s largest rough diamond trade hub.

The UAE government’s response to Covid-19 was among the best in the world, with the vast majority of the population being vaccinated as swiftly as possible. Because of this, commercial and retail activities were able to carry on throughout 2020 and 2021 almost uninterrupted. Because of a decline in consumer spending for general retail and F&B during the pandemic, diamond sales reached record highs, with many new customers entering the market.

Supply chain disruption and market volatility were reflected globally and in every industry, including diamonds, however we mitigated disruption in Dubai through our first-class trade infrastructure.

Since then, we have maintained significant momentum and this thankfully, gives cause for optimism, both in the global and local diamond industry.

Q. Who are your main trading partners and are you seeking additional markets? If so, where?

DMCC works with many important partners across the diamond value chain, including entities across the major producing countries in Africa, hundreds of diamond traders and manufacturers in India, and the top consumer markets across the world.

As we look to grow the global diamond industry further, and not just Dubai’s involvement in the sector, we are continuously looking for opportunities to collaborate with new partners in each and every market.

Q. Are you working to expand the number of local diamond companies? How are you going about this?

Building and developing the local diamond industry is a critical part of our mandate, and we are proud to be home to 1,200 diamond businesses. By providing access to world-class facilities and services as well as unparalleled market connectivity, we continue to support the establishment and growth of these local companies.

Q. Is there a local diamond jewellery industry in Dubai? Are there any plans to expand this?

Absolutely. Dubai is a global luxury shopping hub with all the top global brands having retail outlets in the many world-class shopping centers. We also have a thriving gold souk. As a result, Dubai and the wider GCC account for 4% of global diamond jewellery demand.

Additionally, we have supported and partnered with Informa Markets and the Italian Exhibition Group to establish a new B2B trade show – the JGT Dubai – which will have its second edition between 12-14 February 2023.

It’s our belief that this will become one of the leading global B2B trade shows like the JCK Vegas show and the September Hong Kong Show. We are also home to the Dubai Design Academy which provides a range of jewellery design and manufacturing courses for novices and professionals alike.

Q. In your opinion, what are the challenges and opportunities facing the Dubai diamond industry? The global diamond industry?

Our last Dubai Diamond Conference, held earlier this year, highlighted a range of issues that I believe are among the most critical ones present today. Consumer trends and demands are continuing to evolve, with a greater emphasis on ethical sourcing and social impact. As such, ESG is a major area for the diamond industry to consider – failure in this area will be catastrophic. Technology was another key focus point, and in our current digital world, it is hard to see a scenario in which the future of the industry is not guided by technological advancements.

Importantly, these areas give rise to a host of different opportunities, so in my opinion they should not be viewed as negative disruptions. A more short-term challenge in Dubai is the scarcity of office space in Almas Tower given its popularity – so we are looking at growing our property footprint with the new development in Uptown Dubai, which is set to be launched in Q1 2023.

Q. Do you have plans for future expansion of DMCC?

At DMCC, we are always on the lookout for new opportunities that combine innovation and excellence to ensure sustainable growth. The one constant throughout our journey is that we have always been evolving as a business. In particular, we continue to look at new commodity ecosystems, such as the coloured gemstones and lab-grown diamonds.

We also look to take advantage of opportunities created by technological advancements. Within the diamond industry in particular, this has been in the form of automated manufacturing and lab-grown diamonds. From the lab-grown diamond tenders that we have hosted, to the recent installment of automated Da Vinci manufacturing machines from Synova at the DDE, these are areas that we are keenly focused on.

Q. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Without a doubt, Dubai, and by extension the UAE, will be the largest rough and polished diamond trade hub in the world. This will be for both natural and lab-grown diamonds. We also see an opportunity for consolidation and developing new trade flows in the colored gemstone space.

As ever, DMCC will continue to drive this incredibly important industry forward through its journey of sustainable growth and success.

In the more short-term future, I will once again take on the honour of chairing the Kimberley Process in 2024. This huge responsibility comes with ample opportunities to create positive impact across the globe, furthering the incredibly important role that the Kimberley Process plays in our industry.

Q. Tell us about your hobbies and interests and anything else you would like to add.

I believe it’s fundamentally important to have a good work-life balance – so when time allows outside of work and travel I love to go surfing or diving, watch basketball – I’m a big fan of the LA Lakers – and play video games.

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