As Ethiopian gemstone revenues rise, government looks to limit exports of rough
Quietly and under the radar, Ethiopia appears to be developing into a significant force in the gemstone industry. Speaking last month, Ato Tollosa Shagi of the country’s Ministry of Mines reported that over a six-month period the country had earned $288 million from the export of gemstones.
Ato Tollosa was speaking at a seminar held at the Canadian Embassy in Addis Ababa. He told participants that currently some 250 companies have taken licenses to operate mining exploration in the country.
The country is best known for its opal production, which was first included in the Ethiopian federal government’s list of exportable items in 2005. As a result, output increased, both in terms of production and revenue.
In January it was reported that the federal government was considering banning the export of rough opal, in order to persuade exporters to add value locally. It will be the second extractive resource to be banned, after the ministry suspended the export of unprocessed tantalum, a corrosion resistant, rare blue-gray metal.
Ethiopia exported 10,104 kilograms of gemstones during the last two quarters of 2012; 600 kilograms more than in 2011. India consumed close to 80 percent of exports.
More than 2,000 miners, working under the umbrella of 17 associations are engaged in opal mining. There are 200 exporters recognized by the ministry. According to Tekle Yilma, president of the Ethiopian Gemstone Association, almost all gemstones are sold as rough, without any value addition.