August 20, 2009 / 9:51 PM / 10 years ago

Venezuela to return Cargill factory, eyes Pfizer

* Venezuela will return pasta plant seized in May

* Still considering taking over Pfizer drug plant

CARACAS, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Venezuela will return a pasta factory to U.S. food giant Cargill Inc after seizing it for three months in a pricing spat, a top official said on Thursday, adding a Pfizer laboratory could be occupied.

The government of socialist President Hugo Chavez took control of the Cargill plant in May as part of a campaign to pressure private companies to produce more food at government-set low prices.

Apparently satisfied the factory in the coastal state of Vargas was now operating in compliance with government guidelines, trade minister Eduardo Saman said it would soon be given back to its owners.

“This plant will be returned, the temporary occupation will be lifted,” Saman said.

Since taking office a decade ago, strident U.S. critic Chavez has nationalized large swathes of OPEC member nation Venezuela’s economy, including a rice mill owned by Cargill [CARG.UL] earlier this year and dozens of oil service companies.

Saman reiterated that the government was considering temporarily taking over a laboratory owned by Pfizer (PFE.N) which the U.S. drug maker mothballed several months ago.

The minister accused Pfizer of lying and said he would recommend a takeover if an agreement was not reached about production of medicines. Pfizer in the past said it was happy to sell the site to the government.

Cargill is one of the world’s largest privately owned companies with a dozen plants and about 2,000 employees in Venezuela.

Struggling with Latin America’s highest rate of inflation, Chavez has moved against several food processing companies accused of dodging government low-price regulations and stepped up takeovers of farms deemed idle.

He nationalized the Cargill rice plant in March because it produced a type of rice not included in price controls. He also threatened to nationalize the country’s biggest private employer, brewer and food processor Polar. (Reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel)

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