On 30 June 2016, the European Commission announced a formal investigation into AB InBev’s practices in the Belgian beer market.
The Commission wants to assess whether AB InBev has abused its dominant position in the Belgian beer market by hindering imports of its beer from neighbouring countries and whether such behaviour constitutes an infringement of European antitrust rules.
The investigation will focus on the following potential practices:
- Changing the packaging of beer cans/bottles to make them harder to sell in other countries.
- Limiting non-Belgian retailers’ access to rebates and key products to prevent them bringing cheaper beer products into Belgium.
At the end of its preliminary inquiry, launched on its own initiative, the Commission concluded that AB InBev may have adopted a deliberate strategy to restrict parallel trade of its beer from cheaper countries, such as the Netherlands and France. Such strategy may qualify as an abuse of dominant position, which is forbidden under Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Infringement of competition law may result in a fine of up to 10% of the global annual turnover of the undertaking in question.
AB InBev now has the opportunity to contest the preliminary conclusion of the Commission. The Commission will then pursue its investigation, which has no deadline.