By Owain Johnson

Venezuela's market for alcoholic beverages is set to contract between 10 and 15% in 2002, according to estimates by Pernod Ricard.

The projected decline relates to the oil-rich country's current economic slowdown and to falling exchange rate against the US dollar, which has made imports around 30% more expensive.

Pernod Ricard nonetheless remains optimistic that the Venezuelan alcoholic beverage market is essentially healthy, and the region's managing director Alfonso Alvarado said the company was convinced the long-term prospects for sales in Venezuela market remained positive, despite the current recession.

Pernod Ricard is planning to invest several million US dollars in further developing its market share in Venezuela through a series of publicity campaigns, promotions and tastings over the next few months.

In recent years the country has experienced significant growth in consumer demand for premium brands, and Venezuela currently has the highest per capita whisky consumption in the world.