Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said “AB Inbev's strong position on the Belgian beer market is not a problem. However, we want to make sure that there are no anticompetitive obstacles to trade in beer within the European Single Market. Keeping out cheaper imports of its beer from neighbouring countries would be both against the interests of consumers and anti-competitive".
The Commission will investigate further to establish whether its initial concerns are confirmed: its preliminary view is that AB InBev may be pursuing a deliberate strategy to restrict so-called 'parallel trade' of its beer from less expensive countries, such as the Netherlands and France, to the more expensive Belgian market.
In particular, the Commission will investigate certain potentially anti-competitive practices by AB InBev such as:
- possibly changing the packaging of beer cans/bottles to make it harder to sell them in other countries
- possibly limiting “non-Belgian” retailers access to rebates and key products to prevent them from bringing less expensive beer products to Belgium.
If established, such behaviours would create anti-competitive obstacles to trade within the EU's Single Market and breach Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
Consumers, national competition authorities and the European Parliament have repeatedly voiced concerns that prices for common food and drink products can significantly vary between (neighbouring) EU Member States, without any objective or justified reason. They have also alleged that operators raise obstacles to trade from less expensive countries to more expensive countries (so-called parallel trade) and have called upon the Commission to address these obstacles and ensure more convergence of prices inside the European internal market.
Article 102 TFEU prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position which may affect trade between Member States. The implementation of this provision is defined in the EU Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003), which can also be applied by national competition authorities.
The initiation of proceedings by the Commission relieves the competition authorities of the Member States of their competence to apply EU competition rules to the practices concerned.
The Commission has informed AB InBev and the competition authorities of the Member States concerned that it has opened proceedings in this case.
There is no legal deadline for bringing an antitrust investigation to an end. The duration of an investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the cooperation of the undertakings with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
More information on the investigation will be available on the Commission's Competition website, in the public case register under the case number 40134.