AB InBev Fined $225 Million for Thwarting Cheap Beer Imports

(Bloomberg) -- Anheuser-Busch InBev NV was fined 200 million euros ($225 million) by the European Union for blocking cheap re-imports of Belgium’s most popular beer from the Netherlands back home.

AB InBev deliberately hampered Belgian stores seeking to buy up cheaper supplies of Jupiler from Dutch retailers and wholesalers to resell in Belgium, the European Commission said in an emailed statement. This included removing mandatory French information from the label, limiting sales to a Dutch wholesaler and extracting promises from retailers not to buy up beer from the Netherlands to sell in Belgium.

“Consumers in Belgium have been paying more for their favorite beer because of AB InBev’s deliberate strategy to restrict cross-border sales," EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said. "Attempts by dominant companies to carve up" the European market "to maintain high prices are illegal."

AB InBev made a provision of $230 million for the fine last year, according to its 2018 annual report. The company won a lower fine by promising to add mandatory food information in both French and Dutch to products sold in France, the Netherlands and Belgium for five years to ease potential imports.

AB InBev said the fine relates to past conduct and it has already been making the changes agreed with the EU.

The Brussels-based European Commission has been attacking company efforts to curb sales across European nations to keep prices higher in separate markets. Most recent actions have targeted brand manufacturers preventing online sales of their products outside one country.

The maker of Budweiser, Stella Artois, Corona and Hoegaarden controls around half of Belgium’s beer market. It was previously probed by the EU for colluding to fix prices in the Netherlands and only escaped fines in 2007 because it was the first to tell the commission about the cartel. The company was also ordered to pay back 68 million euros in back taxes to Belgium after the EU outlawed a tax program, a decision currently being challenged at the EU courts.

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