Competition Newsletter June 2019

Author:Ms Emmanuelle van den Broucke and Alexia Delaunay

The European Commission fines AB InBev €200 million for restricting cross-border sales

On May 13, 2019, the Commission fined Anheuser-Busch InBev NV/SA ("AB InBev"), a Belgian beer company, nearly €200 million for abuse of its dominant position between 2009 and 2016 on the Belgian beer market by hindering the cross-border sales of its beer (Jupiler). However, AB InBev benefited from a 15% fine reduction in return for its cooperation with the Commission when it expressly admitted the facts and the offense and proposed a remedy.

In its decision, the Commission first noted that AB InBev holds a high market share and has the ability to increase prices independently from other beer manufacturers. The Commission also noted the existence of significant barriers to entry and limited buyer power of retailers. It thus concluded that AB InBev held a dominant position on the Belgian beer market.

The Commission then noted that AB InBev had abused its dominant position by applying a deliberate strategy consisting of restricting the parallel trade of its beers from countries where they are sold cheaper, such as the Netherlands or France, to the Belgian market, where they are sold for a higher price, the aim being to maintain higher prices in Belgium.

For these purposes, AB InBev used four processes. It (i) changed the packaging of some products to make it harder to sell them in Belgium (notably by removing the French version of the mandatory information on the label when labelling in both languages is mandatory in Belgium); (ii) limited the volume supplied to a wholesaler in the Netherlands; (iii) refused to sell some products to a Dutch retailer unless it agreed to limit its imports to Belgium; and (iv) prohibited another retailer from applying the same promotions to its clients in Belgium as in the Netherlands.

The Commission therefore concluded that AB InBev had abused its dominant position by depriving European consumers of the benefits of the single market: namely the possibility to have more choice and to get a better deal. It made AB InBev's commitment, consisting of offering its products in France and the Netherlands with double labelling in French and Dutch with respect to the mandatory information, binding for the next five years.

This decision adds to recent cases where the Commission sanctioned sales restriction practices on cross-border sales, such as the Guess decision of January 25, 2019

The CJEU confirmed the imposition of two sanctions...

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