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An exclusive interview with Mr. Vipul Shah, Chairman, GJEPC

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Q1. What is your vision for the GJEPC in the next two years? We have anticipated a rise in exports from $30 billion to $40 billion for many years. What would it take to double exports?

We are back to our pre-pandemic export level of $40 billion. The Ministry of Commerce has set a target of $45.8 billion. In the first half, we met 45 per cent of the target. The second half looks challenging. We anticipated positive news as a result of the Ukraine–Russia war, but it’s dragging on and we’re running out of supplies.

Diamond is the major contributor to our business, at 55 per cent of the gems and jewellery basket. Currently, payments cannot be made to Russia. Moving forward, supply will be a major difficulty. The Russians are willing to provide goods, but no payments can be made. We are in touch with the Ministry of Commerce and the Reserve Bank of India, to reach an agreement so that supplies are restored.

China is another hurdle. It is a big consumer market, but the zero-COVID policy and shutdowns have caused disruption. So our growth expectations depend on the US market – and relying on one market is not good for any business. In the second half, we hope for some easing of controls in China.

The third major difficulty is that the free money that was in American consumers’ hands is no longer there. US interest rates and credit card debt are rising; therefore, customer confidence is dwindling. As a Council, we could invest in more promotional activities, buyer–seller meets and exhibitions. We need to make a couple of interventions, regarding the helpful new FTA and CEPA trade agreements between India and the USA, with Hon. Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal. With maximum collective effort, we will meet the $45.8 billion objective.

Q2. When will the new ecommerce policy and SEZ bills be implemented?

The ecommerce policy bill is getting a total redesign. The major change will be to encourage all quantities of jewellery and reduce the paperwork, which may help small-scale producers. The upcoming DESH Bill will be a game-changer for exports. A lot of thinking has gone into it, and we excitedly await its introduction.

A key project coming up is SEEPZ, where the Ministry of Commerce is helping to build the Mega CFC along with the GJEPC. This facility will help us import the newest technology to cater to DTA as well as SEZ exporters. Under one roof, we will be able to maximise skills and output with the best machinery, and bring costs down. The Ministry’s completion date is April 2023.

Q3. Have Indian gems and jewellery exports benefited from the India–UAE CEPA? What other FTAs are in the pipeline?

As soon as the UAE CEPA was signed, we saw a big increase in exports. People are taking full advantage of the agreement. The Ministry is working with Canada, the Eurozone and, very soon, with the UK. These agreements will help promote our exports in all segments.

Q4. Lab-grown diamonds may grow to a $40 billion business in the next 20 years. Do you have any advice for growers, manufacturers and retailers?

There is fear in the industry about natural versus lab-grown, but both have found their own market share. Lab-grown diamonds are promoted by the fashion and affordable jewellery sector. Natural diamonds are preferred where values and emotions are attached.

Early in the pandemic, natural diamond cutting and polishing suffered, but skilled workers soon found work handling lab-grown gems. In fact, we may see a need for more employees, as the industry leaps into affordable and fashion jewellery.

We are at $2 billion in diamond exports currently. In the next five years, I see us reaching $8–10 billion. There are two manufacturing processes for lab-grown diamonds: CVD and HBHD. India is a leader in CVD for larger stones. The government wants to support the lab-grown industry through policy, including PLI schemes. Gujarat recently announced zero duty on electricity bills. We would like to discuss with states how they can support the industry through policy.

Q5. What is your forecast for B2B shows in India in 2023, especially IIJS Signature and IIJS Tritiya?

IIJS is a flagship event. It is recognised as a brand, the world’s second-largest Gem and Jewellery show. It is a curated platform, with all the exhibitors under one roof bringing in foreign customers from many countries. The Council’s success in promotion and marketing can be seen in the fast-rising demand for booths. It’s a big challenge. We cannot accommodate everybody. But the massive turnout is generating great revenue for
participants.

The gems and jewellery industry can expect a lot of encouragement. The Council is planning up to three shows a year. We hope to meet our members’ aspirations and focus attention on the best and most innovative new trends, technology, ideas and processes that empower our industry, impact our market and supercharge our exports.

Courtesy: Retail Jeweller India News

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