Gold industry calls for air transport restrictions

Changing regulations to prevent carrying bags of gold onto a plane could reduce smuggling and illegal sourcing, industry leaders say.

Transportation of illicitly obtained gold, especially in Africa and India, has been increasingly regarded as a serious problem facing the industry. Sarah Dea / The National
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Leaders of the global gold industry have called on airlines and aviation authorities to ban the transport of the precious metal as hand luggage to reduce the risk of smuggling, which is said to be costing billions of dollars a year in lost government revenue.

They want gold to be shipped only as hold cargo, which would allow for “proof of responsible sourcing” and lift what is regarded as a threat to miners’ employment and mining companies’ profits.

Delegates at the Africa Dubai Precious Metals Forum, held in Accra, Ghana, agreed on a “call to action” to airlines, air transport companies and the global air authorities to “ban the hand-held personal carriage of gold in favour of adopting a cargo-only policy”.

The cabin transportation of gold is generally legal around the world, subject to airline weight restrictions and customs regulations. Gold bars and finished jewellery are often flown between manufacturing and retail centres, including Dubai.

But transportation of illicitly obtained gold, especially in Africa and India, has been increasingly regarded as a serious problem facing the industry.

The minister for mines of Burkina Faso, West Africa, said that it lost as much as 80 per cent of mined gold through “illicit means”.

The 130 delegates heard “that most gold mining and trading countries in Africa suffer from the questionable practices of small mining concerns, many of which trade and export gold as a ‘personal item’ thus avoiding taxes and fees in the country of origin”.

Ahmed bin Suleyam, the executive chairman of the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, the trading hub of the emirate’s booming gold industry, said: “We seek to strengthen relationships between all market participants, along the Africa-Dubai trade corridor, while creating a theatre of dialogue to better understand the challenges facing Africa’s gold mining and exporting countries.”

The initiative and others that came out of the forum were backed by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development.

“We need all these initiatives to promote responsible sourcing practices on the ground, in the gold industry as a whole,” said Louis Marechal, OECD’s policy adviser.

The forum heard that airlines were probably the most important component of the supply chain and should be asked to do more to help curb the global transportation of gold.

“The transportation of gold bullion in and out of the UAE is governed by the UAE Federal Customs Authority. Our main priority is the safety and security of our guests and crew,” said a spokesman for Etihad Airways. Emirates was not immediately available for comment.

Gold is not a restricted cabin item for Emirates airline. The maximum allowance of 7kg in gold in Emirates economy class would be worth about US$300,000.

Jeff Rhodes, the chief executive of Zee Gold DMCC, said that on-board hand carry of gold jewellery was an established part of the global industry. “Restricting the hand carry of gold bars would be a major benefit and allow the ‘track and trace’ of gold to ensure provenance,” he said.

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