* Business leaders complain over delays and red tape
* Government looks intent on shunning near-term devaluation
CARACAS Jan 31 Venezuela's government unveiled
moves on Thursday to streamline access to dollars for a private
sector that frequently complains of shortages of hard currency
to buy imports, which business leaders say are hurting the
In a decree published in the Official Gazette, the
authorities said it would be made easier for businesses to cut
red tape in applying for up to $50,000 a time for the purchase
of raw materials and certain types of machinery.
The decree was the latest of several moves by a government
that looks intent on avoiding or delaying a politically painful
devaluation while President Hugo Chavez recuperates in Cuba
following cancer surgery in December.
The new measure scraps a requirement that businesses certify
that goods they seek to import cannot be produced in Venezuela,
or that there is a shortage of them in the country. The
paperwork needed proved hard to obtain for many importers.
Business leaders say they sometimes have to wait up to six
months for dollars in Venezuela, which enforces a particularly
complex multi-tiered currency control system, and it was not
immediately clear how much impact the new rules would have.
A long list of items approved under the mew system was
published in the Gazette on Thursday, ranging from seeds and
livestock to tractors and components to produce medicines.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro said last weekend that Chavez
had taken a series of economic decisions to strengthen exports -
stoking speculation that a currency devaluation was imminent.
The main announcement since then was on Monday, when the
government said it was changing the structure of its windfall
taxes on crude production so that state oil company PDVSA could
provide the central bank with an extra $3 billion this year.
Analysts said that would let the central bank sell more
dollars to businesses and individuals through its SITME auction
system. In 2003, Venezuela imposed capital controls, which over
the years have increasingly restricted access to dollars.
Venezuelan business leaders complain about growing economic
imbalances that they say have been caused by insecurity, bad
policies and uncertainty over the president's prolonged absence.
Periodic shortages of products have become a fact of life
under Chavez. But in Venezuela's distorted, oil-driven economy,
it is the staple goods that go scarce, while luxury and
niche-market items remain easy to find.
A devaluation would make exports more competitive by
lowering local production costs and spur domestic industries by
making imports less competitive with locally-produced goods.
It would improve state finances by providing more bolivars
per dollar of oil exports, but would also push up inflation in a
country that already has one of the highest rates in the region.