The Venezuelan government's decision to introduce currency controls will have an extremely negative impact on the market for imported liquors, import companies fear.

There is a shortage of dollars in Venezuela because the country's recent general strike affected crucial oil exports. The Venezuelan authorities subsequently pegged the bolivar at 1,600 to the dollar, even though the currency has been trading at around 2,200 informally.

The government of President Hugo Chavez will also decide which sectors have priority access to hard currency.

"They haven't said officially that there won't be any dollars for alcohol imports, but President Chavez has already said he won't provide dollars for whisky, so we aren't very hopeful," Giuliana Marrone, the president of Enoteca importers, said.

Marrone said importers were currently reluctant to sell stock, as it remains unclear what prices they should charge. Most importers will have to find dollars quickly to pay their foreign suppliers, but this could mean turning to the black market for currency. If the companies pass this cost on to their customers, then imported spirits and wines will be out of the reach of most Venezuelans.

Marrone said: "There will be a displacement towards cheaper drinks and it is very likely that contraband will make some people's fortunes while ruining legal importers and reducing the state's income."