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EU alleges AB InBev of breach of competition practices in Belgium

DBR Staff Writer Published 04 December 2017

The European Commission has accused Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) of ‘abusing its dominant position’ in the Belgian market by preventing cheaper imports of its Jupiler and Leffe beers from the Netherlands and France into the country.

As the largest brewing company in the world, AB InBev has a strong presence in its home market Belgium. Its two brands Jupiler and Leffe are very popular in the country.

The EU alleged that the company sells these two brands in the Netherlands and France at lower prices than in Belgium due to increased competition.

The regulator has also alleged that the brewer has pursued a deliberate strategy to prevent supermarkets and wholesalers from buying Jupiler and Leffe at lower prices in the two countries and from importing them into Belgium.

The commission has sent statement of objections to the Belgian brewing giant and stated that effective competition plays an important role in the European market where consumers can reap the benefits of an internal market.

As per the commission, AB InBev’s business practices have been in place since 2009 and include changing the packaging of Jupiler and Leffe beer cans in the two countries to make it harder to sell them in Belgium.

The commission claims that the text in French on cans is removed in the Netherlands and the Dutch text is removed in France. This resulted in the difficulty of selling the beers in the Dutch and the French speaking parts of Belgium respectively.

The company has also limited the access of Dutch retailers to prevent them from importing less expensive beer products into Belgium, EC said.

According to the commission, these practices are anti-competitive and are obstacles to trade under the EU’s single market strategy.

If the preliminary views are confirmed, these practices are infringement of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) that prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position.

European Commission Competition Policy Commissioner in Charge Margrethe Vestager said: "Belgian consumers may have had to pay more for their favourite beers. Our preliminary finding is that AB InBev may have deliberately prevented cheaper beer imports out of France and the Netherlands from reaching consumers in Belgium.

“Such practices would breach EU competition rules, because they deny consumers the benefits of the EU Single Market – choice and lower prices. AB InBev now has the opportunity to respond to our concerns."

Image: EU alleges AB InBev of abusing its dominant position in Belgian beer market. Photo: Courtesy of Päivi Tiittanen/FreeImages.com.