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If trading dollars is outlawed, only outlaws will trade dollars. This, to adapt a slogan about gun control from America’s National Rifle Association, increasingly describes Venezuela’s foreign-exchange market. New rules are pushing more currency traders into the black market, where they face lengthy jail sentences and heavy fines for helping others to finance non-priority imports or save in hard currency.

Late last year, the government announced a “unification” of the country’s notoriously complex currency control system, replacing a four-tiered structure with a three-tiered one. The first two tiers (BsF4.3:US$1 for priority imports and the public sector, and BsF5.4:US$1 for other purposes) are official and tightly controlled. The growing third tier is the illegal black market, where prices are reported to hover in the BsF8-10:US$1 range. This deeply opaque, unofficial tier is the one that businesses increasingly use to set prices for imported goods.

Read more at Financial Services Briefing: “In the shadows” (February 9th)