Recession-hit Venezuela, with its currency the Bolivar
Caracas - AFP
Recession-hit Venezuela unveiled details Thursday on its plan to partially liberalize its exchange rate by allowing banks and brokerage houses to sell dollars, saying individuals could buy up to $10,000 a year.
The regulations that will govern the overhauled three-tier exchange rate system were published in the official government gazette, after Finance Minister Rodolfo Marco Torres announced on Tuesday that Venezuela would ease strict currency controls first put in place by late socialist president Hugo Chavez in 2003.
Under the new rules, Venezuelans can buy up to $300 a day, up to a maximum $2,000 a month and $10,000 a year, through banks and foreign exchange houses, at a rate that will be set by the free market.
The new system, known as the "Marginal Currency System" (SIMADI), takes effect immediately, though it is unclear how long it will take for transactions to actually start.
Forex houses have all but disappeared in Venezuela since currency controls were introduced.
The dollar is officially worth 6.3 bolivars in Venezuela, but currently fetches about 30 times that on the black market.
The gap has made it increasingly difficult for the country to import the goods it needs, fueling widespread shortages and crippling inflation of 64 percent.
Venezuela is estimated to have the largest oil reserves in the world but depends largely on imports for basic goods, including food and medicine.
President Nicolas Maduro said Tuesday that five to 10 percent of the government's dollar supply would be made available through SIMADI.
The bulk of the government's dollars, 70 percent, will still be offered at the official rate of 6.3 bolivars to importers of vital goods such as food and medicine.
Importers of other products considered part of the "basic basket" of consumer goods will be able to buy dollars at a rate initially set at 12 bolivars to the dollar that will fluctuate within a range controlled by the government.
Under the new regulations, "public entities" such as state oil firm PDVSA, the country's main source of foreign currency, will be allowed to sell dollars on the free market.
That promises to increase the amount of bolivars that PDVSA gets for its dollars and also stimulate supply on the free market.
Venezuela is in the midst of a two-year economic crisis that has grown worse in recent months with the slide in global oil prices, which fell 60 percent between June and January.
Ratings agencies have warned it risks defaulting on $10 billion in debt payments due this year.