What were the main highlights for MTC in 2018?
2018 was a good year. Production was strong, and in addition to mine modernization, which has continued, the plan in the free trade zone has achieved some of the best cutting of emeralds anywhere in the world. In 2018, a significant achievement was the World Emerald Symposium, a coming of a new age for the Colombian emerald industry. The emerald industry in Colombia was informal and had many challenges. After this symposium, things changed, and the demand for Colombian emeralds remains strong. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to meet demand. For Colombia, 2018 was a year during which the industry matured.
What does the modernization of mining techniques mean for the Colombian emerald sector?
Previously, the mines were mainly artisanal; they were worked by pick and shovel. It was traditional and there was not much technology involved. There is still some of that, but today much more is done by mechanized means.
How has mechanization changed, and will it change as it advances?
Even though we can mechanize some of the production, we still require manual labor because of the nature of emeralds. We can use different technologies to determine where to dig and discover where the emeralds are. Though ramps are not generally productive themselves, we can put them in productive tunnels, which allow us to transport equipment and make it more comfortable, all while improving safety.
How, in terms of formalization and legality, has the emerald trade changed in Colombia?
The global gem trade has changed, and that change is driving our efforts. Within the legitimate gem trade, many things have changed because people have become more aware of the social impacts of mining. As a result, customers demand traceability in emeralds or evidence of proper labor conditions. We have taken steps to assure our ultimate customer that our products from our mine are produced under the correct conditions. We want to make sure clients know these are legitimate emeralds, because it is the right thing to do and this is what the market demands. The government was not that active in this regard, though the situation in Colombia has improved. In addition, the government has started to pay much more attention not just to the mining industry but also everything, including the environment. It has naturally taken more interest in areas such as the emerald industry and has fostered formalization and legalization. For us, it has been positive, because we have been implementing these changes already. We are by far the largest mine, and by implementing these changes we are helping to set the standard for the entire industry. We have enjoyed support from the government for this.
What markets does MTC help Colombia reach?
We help Colombia reach the entire world: China, Japan, the US, Europe, Asia, and India. Our business is to sell emeralds, and we will sell them to any legitimate entity in the global market.
MTC has spoken about its vision to have a positive impact on the communities it works in. What impact does the company have?
From the beginning, it was evident that if we wanted to operate in Colombia, especially in a rural area, we needed to have a good relationship with the communities, or else we would not be going anywhere. If the community rejects a company, they will have problems. We have a talented and experienced social responsibility manager who has worked to provide services to communities such as helping local schools. We help the local public health system as well, making an investment in the local hospital. We also built a dining hall where we feed around 300 indigent elderly people a day.
What can we expect from MTC in 2019?
You can expect more production. We want to take the lessons from recent years and put them to work and keep exploring. We still have many areas to explore for emeralds, so we are optimistic. Things should go well. Sales are not a problem for us. We may launch some major projects, such as establishing a line of jewelry ourselves. We are working on a number of other ventures at an international level. We expect a great year in 2019.