(Adds naira level, background)
By Oludare Mayowa
LAGOS May 4 Nigeria's central bank has lifted a
ban on currency allocation for importers bringing in goods worth
up to $20,000 per quarter, it said in a circular seen by Reuters
The bank in 2015 placed a restriction on 41 items for which
importers could no longer get dollars, including rice,
toothpicks, cement, private jets, steel products, plastics and
rubber, soap, cosmetics, furniture, Indian incense and foreign
Aimed at conserving its foreign reserves, the move curbed
access to dollars for importers bringing in a wide range of
goods, helped fuel the currency black market and worsened
investor perceptions about policy in Africa's biggest economy.
"Importers of items classified as not valid for forex with
transactions value of $20,000 and below per quarter shall now
qualify for allocation of foreign exchange," the bank said.
Last month the bank cut the amount of paperwork needed for
small firms to buy dollars, to ease doing business and help
narrow the gap between official and black market exchange rates.
It said it will offer them up to $20,000 per
Nigeria introduced capital controls in 2015 after a sharp
fall in oil prices caused chronic dollar shortages, weakened its
currency and slashed government revenues, tipping the economy
into its first recession in a quarter of a century last year.
It subsequently introduced and then abandoned a currency peg
and now uses a system of multiple exchange rates which the bank
says help it manage "frivolous" dollar demand.
The naira was quoted weaker on Thursday at an investor
trading window, at 382.14 per dollar, data from market regulator
FMDQ OTC Securities Exchange showed. The official market rate
was 305.20 and the black market rate 391.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had said on Tuesday that
Nigeria aimed to replace the list of 41 import items with more
trade policy-driven restrictions taking into account items that
are required and locally unavailable raw materials.
The central bank has pledged to sustain its currency
intervention to help narrow the spread between the official and
black market rates, its spokesman Isaac Okorafor said.
In theory, greater liquidity should lead the rates to
converge. The bank offered to sell $150 million at an auction on
Wednesday and sold $65.94 million previous day. It planned to
sell its weekly $20,000 each to exchange bureaus, Okorafor said.
(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by
Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Catherine Evans)