Dealing with the foreign exchange problem
PNG businesses must have strategies to manage the current shortage of foreign exchange, says Stephen Massa
Stephen Massa of law firm Dentons outlines some strategies to deal with foreign exchange shortages.
The pressure of limited foreign currency supply in PNG has become part and parcel of doing business in the country. It affects any business that needs to pay offshore suppliers of goods or services, or repay offshore loans. It also affects foreign-owned businesses wanting to remit profits.
It has created pressures but it is imperative that businesses avoid unintentionally breaching PNG’S foreign exchange controls. All offshore debts must be settled via an actual outflow of money through an authorised dealer and not simply via an offsetting, notional or account entry arrangement.
The Bank of Papua New Guinea, PNG’S central bank, has tightened control around foreign currency movement and accounts. For example, it has placed a stay on the opening of any new onshore foreign currency accounts. It has also required entities with existing onshore foreign currency accounts to reapply to the bank to keep those accounts open as foreign currency accounts.
If the bank is not satisfied with an applicant’s need to maintain an onshore foreign currency account, deposits in that account are converted into kina.
Businesses that have received the bank’s approval to maintain their onshore foreign currency account must comply with the bank’s conditions. In general terms, this means that the account should usually be limited to making or receiving foreign currency payments under core commercial contracts necessary for that business to operate effectively in PNG.
Many businesses may be motivated to look for creative or innovative ‘solutions’. For example: A business in need of foreign currency to pay an offshore supplier might propose to transfer an agreed amount of PGK to a business that has foreign currency and can pay the offshore supplier on their behalf; or A business with an onshore foreign currency deposit might consider making a foreign currency loan to an offshore entity in order to protect their foreign currency deposit against any further tightening or forced conversion into kina; or A business that is owed a foreign currency debt under an inter-company loan from its offshore parent entity might consider offsetting a dividend or management fee owed to its parent in lieu of repayment of the loan.
All of the above scenarios would be a breach of PNG’S Foreign Exchange Control Regulations, which prohibit the selling or exchanging of foreign currency (or transactions that have the effect of this) other than through the central bank or an authorised dealer.
The penalties for breaching the foreign currency controls can be severe and include large fines, prison terms, and/or forfeiture of foreign currency or goods.
Businesses will continue to experience the negative impacts of a squeeze on the availability of foreign currency, but if they are able to ride out the short-term challenges they should be well placed to benefit from the next significant growth phase.