Venezuela To Sell Carmakers $2B To Boost Imports

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuela's government announced Monday that it will sell $2 billion worth of dollars to the country's automotive sector, enabling the companies to import more parts and pay down debts that have slowed production.

The Science and Technology Ministry said authorities will provide the currency this year and make "an effort to establish a constant flow in the authorization and liquidation of dollars for the sector."

Under currency controls imposed by President Hugo Chavez in 2003 to slow the flow of capital out of the country, Venezuelan businesses and individuals must apply to a government agency to buy dollars they need to pay for imported goods or to take vacations abroad.

But Venezuela has been providing fewer dollars since the fall in world oil prices greatly shrank government revenue. Venezuela relies on oil for 93 percent of its export revenue, while world oil prices are down 55 percent from their peak last July.

In recent months, General Motors Corp., Ford Motors Co. and other carmakers complained their Venezuelan operations had waited up to 200 days to get dollars for importing parts -- accumulating some $2 billion in debts to suppliers, the country's automotive chamber of commerce said in March. Auto output was down 9.7 percent this year through May.

GM's Venezuela affiliate temporarily shuttered a local assembly plant Friday for at least three months, suspending all car production in Venezuela as it waits for dollars to pay off debts totaling $1.2 billion.

GM, the nation's largest automaker, received $1.4 billion worth of dollars to pay for its imports last year -- more than any other company in Venezuela, the Science and Technology Ministry said Monday.

Ford announced last week that it was reducing production 10 percent because it couldn't buy enough parts.

Chrysler LLC, Toyota Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Mack de Venezuela and Iveco Venezuela also produce cars in Venezuela, but haven't closed any plants this year because of import problems. Both Toyota and Mitsubishi briefly halted production amid labor strikes.

Last year, automakers in Venezuela produced 135,042 cars and trucks. In March, the sector employed 40,000 people and created an additional 100,000 jobs indirectly, according to the automotive chamber.

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