By Deisy Buitrago
CARACAS, March 11 Venezuela unveiled currency
regulations on Tuesday to help usher in a new foreign exchange
platform to combat black market trading, promising the
much-delayed system would start in coming days.
The Sicad 2 platform adds a third exchange rate to the
country's 11-year-old currency controls that sell dollars at 6.3
bolivars for preferential goods and around 11 for other items.
Officials say it will help lower the price of dollars on the
black market, where greenbacks now fetch close to 80 bolivars.
"The first day of operations will be Thursday," said Vice
President Jorge Arreaza during a televised meeting with
representatives of the agriculture sector.
Economy Vice President Rafael Ramirez had previously told
reporters that the platform would start functioning "in the
coming hours." He declined to provide details on the amounts
likely to be offered or the expected exchange rate.
The central bank will publish instructions outlining the
practical details of the platform including details of
operations and technology details, according to the regulations
published in the Official Gazette.
Dollars can be offered in cash or bonds via Sicad 2 at a
price above the other two rates, but below the roughly 80
bolivars that dollars currently fetch on the black market.
The platform would operate daily, with transactions to be
completed within 48 hours of a deal.
Both businesses and individuals can participate in the
system, which will operate alongside existing currency controls.
The black market is seen as one of the primary drivers of
inflation, which hit 56 percent last year and helped spark
opposition protests that have dragged on for close to a month.
Finance Minister Nelson Merentes said inflation for the
month of February was lower than the 3.3 percent registered in
January, but did not offer the figure.
The black market rate has steadily strengthened over the
last week after reaching nearly 90 bolivars as businesses have
became more optimistic they will be able to buy dollars more
affordably through Sicad 2.
The central bank will publish the daily price average, and
may intervene to avoid "erratic fluctuations."
State oil company PDVSA, which earns about 95
percent of Venezuela's foreign revenues, will be allowed to
participate in the market.
Private exporters will be allowed to keep 60 percent of the
hard currency they earn, addressing a long-standing complaint of
business leaders that exporters had been required to hand over
dollars at the unfavorable official rate.
Sicad 2 takes its name from the Spanish acronym for the
Complementary Foreign Exchange Administration System.
The country has suffered chronic shortages of basic goods
ranging from toilet paper to corn flour as importers struggle to
obtain the dollars they need.
The government last month reformed the Exchange Crimes Law
to allow businesses and individuals to take part in foreign
exchange transactions, which had been previously reserved for
the central bank.
Critics say soaring inflation and product shortages are
signs that the state-driven model of economics created by late
socialist leader Hugo Chavez is running out of steam.
President Nicolas Maduro says speculators and saboteurs are
carrying out an "economic war" against him.