The OTHER Article in the New York Times


With all the consternation over the July 24 “What Lurking in Your Countertop?” piece, another big story last month concerning stone in the New York Times drifted away … but don’t think it’s gone. 


“Pakistan Marble Helps Taliban Stay Alive” on July 14 offered nearly 2,000 words on the fundamentalist insurgents found a steady cash flow by taking over a marble quarry in Ziarat, Pakistan. The group charged a large fee for someone to operate the quarry, and also imposed a “tax” (known in the United States as “protection money” or “shakedown”) on all trucks hauling the stone.

Since reopening the quarry in April, the Taliban managed to make “tens of thousands of dollars,” according to the Times report. It’s estimated the quarry fees netted $45,000 at the start, and the truck payoffs average $500 per day.

The article concentrates on the Taliban, but it exposes one of the darker corners of the international stone trade. The Pakistani marble quarried to fund the Taliban probably won’t make it to the United States, but plenty of stone with less-than-desirable provenance circulates through the world.

For one thing, there’s Iran, which – as of last year – ranked fourth worldwide in dimensional-stone production. It’s mostly marble and travertine, and both belong to the list of goods that aren’t to be traded to the United States. So is Iranian stone selling here? It’s impossible to get anyone on the record, but there’s likely some for sale in every U.S. metropolitan area.

International tariff agreements identify the origin of goods by the amount of finishing done in any one place. In stone’s case, it’s the cutting and polishing that matters, so a block can be quarried in one country, but be noted as an export product from another country where the major finishing work takes place. (It’s why Italy is a top granite exporter to the United States, even though very little granite is actually quarried in Italia.)

So, stone from Iran or, say, Zimbabwe doesn’t necessarily get tagged with the source-country’s name. If it goes to China, Turkey, Italy, India or wherever there’s a factory to finish it, that stone is then legally imported from that country. It’s up to the processor to acknowledge the stone’s source (which is why Baltic Brown is almost always imported as a granite from Finland – the quarried home – even though most of it is finished in other places, including a large amount in China).

Legally, that’s all that the customers, fabricators, distributors and importers might know about a stone’s origin. With concerns about terrorist ties and labor exploitation, however, there may be more of a movement to ID the stone by its source country – and you may be able to, in part, thank the Times for that.

Emerson Schwartzkopf

You can read up-to-the-minute news on the dimensional-stone trade and search the archives at, where you can also find this blog at the top of the home page under the clever title of “Editor’s Blog.”


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