Venezuela to take over top foreign cement companies

Venezuela will take a majority stake in top foreign cement companies' assets in a renewed nationalization drive, the government said on Monday, giving the first details of a plan announced last week.

Venezuela to take over top foreign cement companies
The socialist government will take over at least 60 percent of the local units of Mexico's Cemex, France's Lafarge and Switzerland's Holcim, in a scheme similar to oil-project nationalizations last year.

The three companies are the world's top cement makers and dominate Venezuela's cement industry. The nationalization will leave just a few small domestic companies in private hands.

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez fleshed out the plan to put the state in charge of the industry after meeting with officials from the three companies.

"We are sure that in the very short term we can progress in this negotiation with these companies, which will be done bilaterally with each one of them," Ramirez told state television.

Last year, the state oil company paid compensation to take over the country's largest private power company.

President Hugo Chavez has faced criticism from supporters for not building new low-cost housing quickly enough to meet demand. He says control of the cement industry will help him meet construction goals.

Last year he launched a multibillion-dollar nationalization drive that affected energy and utility assets,

Four oil companies accepted the government's offer to take over at least 60 percent of their operations in the Orinoco oil belt in 2007. But Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips left the OPEC nation and are seeking compensation through international arbitration.

Cemex seeks talks

Mexico has strongly condemned the plan to take over Cemex's Venezuelan unit. Cemex, which operates in more than 50 countries, said it will lobby Venezuela to back down.

Cemex said in a statement on Monday that Venezuela had indicated it could consider different options for the takeover and said it was open to talks that could lead to a "mutually acceptable" solution. It said its Venezuela subsidiary would operate normally during any talks over its future.

Cemex's Mexico City-listed stock closed up 3.70 percent at 28.86 pesos, holding on to earlier gains stemming from earlier comments by Chavez that implied the Monterrey-based company might escape the nationalization.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Nisan 2008, 11:54