Packaging giant Tetra Pak is seeking talks with controversial Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez after he threatened to ignore patents protecting the group's products.

Chavez, who last week ordered a ban on Coca-Cola Zero, used his weekly programme on state TV to question why Venezuela could not make Tetra Pak-style products, according to local reports.

"What are patents? That's universal knowledge. We don't have to be subject to capitalist laws," the controversial Venezuelan president is reported to have said.

A Tetra Pak spokesperson said the Sweden-based firm would start talks with the Venezuelan government "to better understand the rationale of [Chavez's] statement".

"The statement by President Chavez obviously surprised us given the international recognition of the importance of patents," the spokesperson said.

"Tetra Pak employs 225 people in Venezuela and has a production plant for gable top packages in the country since 1993."

Last week, Venezuela banned Coca-Cola Zero over alleged safety concerns. The Coca-Cola Co and its local bottler have agreed to temporarily pull Coca-Cola Zero from Venezuelan shelves but has insisted the drink is safe and has started talks with the Government.

In March, Chavez ordered the expropriation of a rice plant owned by Cargill.