Groupe Danone has stayed silent on recent reports suggesting it hopes to merge the companies owned by its Chinese venture partner Hangzhou Wahaha's chairman Zong Qinghou, into their joint venture.

Relations between Danone and Wahaha have been poor for most of 2007, with the French company accusing Wahaha of operating competing firms against the companies' joint venture drinks firms in China.

Speaking to just-drinks today (6 March) a spokesperson for Danone refused to be drawn on reports, saying: "We will not comment until we find a solution."

The move to merge has already once been resisted by Zong, leading to Danone starting legal proceedings accusing Hangzhou Wahaha for allegedly illegally selling products "which are the same as the joint venture's products under Wahaha trademark, without proper authorisation".

Hangzhou Wahaha dismissed the allegation, and countersued Danone in June, claiming up to EUR5bn (US$6.73bn) in damages for what it termed "illegal activities". The fight between the two has grown ever more acrimonious throughout 2007, leading even to French President Nicolas Sarkozy raising the matter at a meeting with China's president Hu Jintao.

However, in December, the two companies announced that they have agreed to "temporarily suspend all lawsuits and arbitration, stop all aggressive and hostile statements and create a friendly environment for peace talks".

The spokesperson added: "We agreed on 21 December that we were in negotiations, but, until a solution is reached, we have no comment to make."