This is how the emerald business works

From the moment they are mined until they reach the hands of an owner, emeralds must comply with a strict registration process to guarantee their origin.

The emerald production chain starts with the miner who finds it. He delivers it to the owner of the mine, who sells it to a buyer who then travels to Bogotá to try to carve it or export it. In the journey between the owner and the final consumer, who in 95 percent of the cases is in another country, the stone usually goes through many intermediaries: the carvers, who transform it; commission agents, who are looking for buyers, and traders.

Previously, the traders carried out the corresponding procedures to register the stone and guarantee that it could leave the country, and assumed the payment of royalties before the National Mining Agency (ANM). That is to say, by law, the entire previous process was carried out illegally (even though the owners of the mines were duly registered owners), since the other minerals exploited in Colombia are declared from the mine entrance.

In many cases, the mining owners declared what they had extracted every three months and the national government did not verify that the mines were actually working and that the material came from the designated hole. This led to criminals entering the business who used emeralds to launder assets or trade stolen gems.

In 2015, the Single Registry of Mineral Traders (Rucom) came into operation, created to certify those who deal with minerals, in order to give greater transparency and control to this activity. Since then, anyone who wants to sell an emerald must be in this system that applies to the entire chain.

Even the so-called guaqueros, who carry out traditional subsistence mining, must register with the mayors of their municipalities to be able to sell what they take from the mountains. In the same way, they have to present a certificate that specifies where they found the gems, among other requirements such as their identity card and a NIT. Thanks to all this, from the beginning the process is already being done in a legal and transparent way, guaranteeing the origin and paying taxes as in any other economic activity.

The same applies to mine owners, only they do not need to be registered with the municipalities but only with Rucom to issue the buyer the certificate of origin, with these measures, the formalization and legalization of emerald mining began. Every time a new player enters this production chain, they must have the certificate of origin of the stone and the Rucom that certify them as a marketer.

However, the payment of royalties is still made, in approximately 95 percent of the cases, at the time of exporting, so many claim that the national government should implement greater controls and thus achieve that it is done in the same way, than with the other minerals. In addition, as with gold and barequeros, situations arise in which a guaquero certifies the origin of a merchandise that was obtained illegally.

In the midst of this reality that is still complex, it should not be ignored that for several years large companies that own the entire production chain have joined the sector: they are mining owners, they have carving centers and export products. These companies contribute to the formalization of the activity, since all their employees are formally hired, they guarantee the traceability of their material with exact dates and times of each stage of the process, and they contribute the bulk of the royalties. The Muzo Companies (TMC), for example, in 2016 turned 88 percent of the $8,422 million it produced in that year.

However, very few companies work like this, so the rest of the trade moves informally or illegally. Those who have been part of the emerald business for decades argue that a more effective mechanism designed exclusively for this sector is required, since they consider that the government created Rucom to solve, more than anything else, the problem of illegal gold mining.

The truth is that a significant percentage of people in the sector ask the government to pay greater attention to an industry that moves significant sums of money and whose product is recognized in the world for its quality and exclusivity.