Italy criticises "unjustified" Bridgestone plant closure

ROME, March 7 Thu Mar 7, 2013 2:05pm EST

ROME, March 7 (Reuters) - Italian Industry Minister Corrado Passera has written to the head of Bridgestone Corp, complaining about the Japanese tyre group's plans to close a plant in Modugno in southern Italy next year, the ministry said on Thursday.

"For the government this is a serious and unjustified decision," the ministry said in a statement.

Officials from the ministry, unions and from the regional government of Puglia will meet Bridgestone's European board on Thursday March 14 to discuss the case, the statement said.

Bridgestone said on Monday that it planned to close down the Modugno passenger car tyre plant in the first half of 2014 because of increased cost pressures in the low-end of the market and its refocusing of production for the premium tyre market.

The closure of the Modugno plant, which employs 950 workers, is another blow to the industrial infrastructure of the poor southern region.

The plant, one of eight Bridgestone production sites in Europe, makes general use tyres at the lower end of the market and faces high logistics and energy costs.

Puglia, which includes the "heel" of Italy, is already struggling to absorb the environmental crisis which has threatened the future of the vast ILVA steel works, Europe's biggest steel plant.

Passera's letter to Masaaki Tsuya said Bridgestone should have discussed its plans beforehand. It demanded that the Japanese company provide "as soon as possible, the clarification that has been requested and that it keep Italian authorities constantly informed, the ministry said. (Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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