- UAE is one of world's biggest gold trade hubs
- Refiners will be subject to responsible sourcing rules
- Industry figures say move should reduce trade in illicit gold
- UAE is under pressure to tighten rules, enforcement
LONDON, Nov 8 (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates will require all gold refineries to undergo annual audits to ensure their suppliers are responsible, it told Reuters, in an effort to combat illicit trading.
Industry figures said this should raise standards in the UAE, one of the world's biggest bullion trade hubs, but may also shift flows of gold linked to crime or human rights abuses to other countries, for example in Africa, where the number of gold refineries is growing rapidly.
A Reuters investigation in 2019 found that UAE took in gold worth billions of dollars smuggled from Africa, some of it mined in grim and polluting conditions and countries in conflict.
Organisations including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental anti-money laundering monitor, are pressing the country to tighten rules and enforcement. UAE has said doing so is a national priority.
UAE's Economy Ministry told Reuters a UAE Good Delivery Standard would require refiners to properly scrutinize suppliers and prove to outside auditors they have done so.
"All gold refiners will be required to adhere to the responsible sourcing obligations," it said. "The UAE Good Delivery Standard will also require annual compliance audits."
The ministry said its goal was to bring the whole industry in line with responsible sourcing standards. It declined to comment further before an announcement at a precious metals industry conference in Dubai later this month.
CORE TO ECONOMY
Millions of people work in small scale gold mines that can be brutal on workers and leak toxic chemicals. The metal is often used to finance crime, conflict and terrorism.
The FATF last month placed Turkey on its "grey list" -- potentially eroding foreign investment -- due in part to "serious issues of supervision" in its gold trade.
Last year, the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), which runs the biggest responsible sourcing accreditation scheme for refineries, said it could stop refiners it certifies from taking gold from countries with inadequate controls.
UAE said it had taken numerous measures to combat illicit trading, including requirements for firms to register with anti-money laundering authorities and declare large cash transactions.
"The gold and precious metals industry is core to our economy," UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi, who chairs a committee overseeing the gold trade, said in a statement to Reuters.
The good delivery standard "will further strengthen the UAE's AML/CFT (anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism) framework, which is a critical national priority and a central focus of the UAE leadership," Al Zeyoudi said.
SQUEEZING A BALLOON
UAE said its standard was an extension of the Dubai Good Delivery Standard, a voluntary accreditation scheme run by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), a UAE free trade zone.
DMCC accredits two of UAE's more than 10 refiners, requiring responsible sourcing policies and audits. Most UAE gold refiners and dealers lack accreditation or outside scrutiny of how and where they get their gold.
"This is the most significant thing the UAE government have done (to stop unethical trade)," said Tyler Gillard, who advises governments and companies on responsible sourcing at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
But illicit trading will not disappear, he said. "It's like squeezing a balloon ... there's still enough gaps and opportunities in other countries for gold to enter the market."
Most countries do not require sourcing audits. Dozens of refineries are operating or under construction in sub-Saharan Africa, and India, a big importer of gold from small-scale mines, has many refiners not subject to scrutiny.
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