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Chavez threat to disregard 'capitalist' patents could hit Tetra Pak

By Rory Harrington , 15-Jun-2009
Last updated on 15-Jun-2009 at 12:53 GMT

Packaging companyTetra Pak could become the next corporate giant to suffer at the hands of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez after he questioned the validity of patented products.

The leader of the South American country announced that his government may copy packing technology developed by Tetra Pak in a bid to cut back on imports and reliance on foreign companies, according to a report by Bloomberg.

"Capitialist" patents questioned

Jesse Chacon, Science and Technology Minister, said the country had spent $63 million dollars on importing packaging material manufactured by Tetra Pak in May.

Speaking in his weekly televised address Chavez said: “We have aluminum and paper, why can’t we make that material here?” What are patents? That’s universal knowledge. We don’t have to be subject to capitalist laws.”

The government also warned it would take over cardboard companies that refused to supply packaging to state-owned food outfits.

Tetra Pak told FoodProductionDaily.com that it was unable to comment at present but would be investigating the matter with its staff in Venezuela.

Nationalisation strategy

Tetra Pak is not the first company to be targeted by Chavez. In March, he ordered the seizure of 1,500 acres of land owned by Irish firm Smurfit Kappa Cartons, which makes cardboard boxes and paper packaging products. The government said it would use the land for “more rational” crops such as yucca and beans but would pay compensation to the company.

However, in a fresh development, the leftwing regime is now said to be considering a second land grab from Smurfit Kappa, with officials currently drawing up a report on its holdings in Venezuela.

Smurfit Kappa chief executive Gary McGann confirmed last month the company was involved in technical evaluation of land with the Chavez administration to determine if it was suitable for growing food crops. He added that a land-swap deal was also being considered and there was no sense the company was being targeted.

The company declined to comment further on the matter.

The moves are seen as part of an overall strategy by Chavez which has seen him nationalise the energy, concrete, telecommunications, and steel industries. In March, he ordered the expropriation of a rice plant owned by a subsidiary of US company Cargill. The 54-year-old leader justified the takeover on the grounds that the plant did not produce price-controlled basic rice.

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