By Michelle Smith-Exclusive To Diamond Investing News

That  Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe attended the kickoff of the Antwerp Diamond Roadshow is noteworthy for a reason other than his mere presence. He and wife, Princess Mathlide, oversaw the signing of an agreement between the Antwerp World Diamond Center (AWDC) and the Industrial Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). The deal involves the bank providing financial services to Belgium's diamond industry, which is expected to fuel its growth.

Antwerp is seen as global diamond hub, a critical intersection for the global diamond trade where stones are imported, cut, polished, and exported. Of every 10 rough diamonds, it is estimated that eight are sent to this Belgian city for manufacturing. 80 percent of global diamond trading is said to be done in Antwerp. AWDC is the world's largest diamond organization representing 1800 members.

Under the terms of the deal, ICBC will provide financing for diamond trading and products. Exactly what this entails remains unclear.

Earlier this year the Antwerp Diamond Bank urged companies to prepare for the future as Basel 3 financial regulations are expected to make corporate finance more scarce, selective and expensive. Considering this, one of the questions that surrounds this deal is whether it will improve the availability of credit for the smaller diamond industry players.

Other services that ICBC will provide include global cash management, bank card acceptance, Chinese yuan-based international settlement, capital transaction and investment banking.

ICBC is China's largest bank in terms of value. It has the highest revenue of Chinese banks and the highest client savings. One of the ways in which it is expected to benefit from this agreement is by providing its clients with access to high-quality yet competitively priced diamonds.

Also, the deal involves AWDC providing ICBC with assistance to successfully enter the diamond financing business. The diamond organization agreed to help the bank find a location for its Brussels branch and to help them obtain the necessary professionals, technology, equipment and information.

China, with its renowned buying power and population that's growing increasingly thirsty for luxury, is considered a gem to the diamond industry, as it is viewed as a nation with an extremely high growth potential. In addition to the financial benefits, this deal is seen as major because it aims to give Belgian diamond players better access to the Chinese market.

Although Hong Kong is the second largest export market for Antwerp diamonds, as of September, China only accounted for 3 percent the polished exports from Belgium. 224 million carats were exported to the mainland with a value of more than $333 million. This is a 28 percent increase in value compared to the same period last year, but Belgium is looking for even more growth.

The bilateral diamond trade between China and Belgium is forecast to rise to $5 billion over the next year, a ccording to the International Diamond Exchange.

Ari Epstein, AWDC chief executive, said "we firmly believe that the Belgian economy through the diamond industry will play a predominant role in ending the financial crisis."

With the ink now dry on the deal between AWDC and ICBC, it is hoped that the current roadshow will begin to strengthen the alliance between the two nations thereby sparking progress toward these goals.

The event is paving the route for 15 diamond companies from Antwerp to mix and mingle with investors and jewelers in five major Chinese cities as they exhibit millions of dollars worth of fine stones from Belgium.

Belgium Diamond Industry Inks Deal With Chinese Bank from Diamond Investing News