CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Venezuela's government may take temporary control of a shuttered medicine plant that belongs to Pfizer Inc., a top official said Friday, suggesting that the New York-based company should resume production.
Venezuela's consumer protection agency planned to ask President Hugo Chavez to order the takeover after Pfizer closed a medicine factory in the eastern city of Valencia, one of two it has in Venezuela, said Trade Minister Eduardo Saman, who heads the agency.
"We're very worried, because this plant makes essential medicines that are needed in the country," Saman said, according to the state-run Bolivarian News Agency.
It wasn't clear when the plant was closed or for what reason, and calls seeking comment from Pfizer Venezuela SA in Caracas went unanswered.
A statement from Pfizer in New York said the company "will continue to provide important medicines across a range of key therapeutic areas," and noted that it is "committed to engaging in an ongoing dialogue with the Venezuelan authorities."
Local Pfizer workers met with Saman on Thursday and asked the government to take over the factory in order to protect their jobs.
The pharmaceutical giant had received permission from the government to buy a significant amount of dollars to import medicines - an increasingly rare privilege as falling oil prices force Venezuela to restrict access to scarce dollars.
Under currency controls imposed in 2003, Venezuelan companies and individuals need government approval to buy dollars at an officially set exchange rate.
Venezuela's government this year took control of food-processing plants that allegedly failed to produce pasta and rice at government-set prices, including one rice-processing plant owned by Minnesota-based food giant Cargill.
Chavez on Thursday announced plans to nationalize at least six metal, ceramic and other companies as his government seeks to build an "industrial complex" that he says will help push Venezuela toward his vision of socialism.
The takeovers will affect Tavsa, Tubus de Acero de Venezuela SA and Materiales Siderurgicos SA, known as Matesi - all subsidiaries of Tenaris, the Luxembourg-based subsidiary of Argentine-Italian conglomerate Techint, the company said.
Tenaris, which supplies steel tubes to the energy industry, also has a minority stake in Complejo Siderurgico de Guayana CA, which is also listed for takeover.
Chavez has nationalized Venezuela's biggest telecommunications, electricity and steel companies along with four major oil projects since winning re-election in 2006.
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