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HARARE, Feb 15 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean banks only have enough cash in offshore accounts to finance about two weeks' worth of the country's imports, according to a statement from the central bank on Wednesday.
Local banks holding $120 million in cash and around double that in offshore accounts, the central bank said, as the country struggles with a persistent shortage of cash.
Zimbabwe introduced a "bond note" currency last year that is backed by a $200 million loan from Africa Export and Import Bank. The notes are holding their value, but businesses say they still face serious delays in paying for imports because banks have no dollars to make the payments.
Zimbabwe needs an average $430 million a month to pay for imports, according to central bank figures for 2016. With only $250 million in offshore accounts, local banks can only finance imports for about two weeks.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) said it would from the end of this month start a local VISA settlement platform, which should help to preserve foreign exchange by saving its users the charges associated with international settlements. Local settlement for Mastercard is expected at the end of next month.
"This development is critical in saving the much-needed foreign currency and bringing about enhanced efficiencies for local transactions," the RBZ said.
The RBZ said it had issued $94 million in bond notes, which had so far held their value against the U.S. dollar.
Zimbabwe expects tobacco and gold exports to rise, increasing earnings and helping to reduce the shortages of cash that have gripped the country since last year, the RBZ said.
The RBZ has directed banks to cap interest rates at 12 percent starting April, in a bid to offer cheaper credit to businesses and expand production. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by Larry King)