Interbrew-Bass decision overturned

Belgian brewer likely to get more time to sell Bass interests

May 23, 2001 - Britain's High Court has reversed a government decision to force Belgium's Interbrew to sell Bass Brewers.


The court found the Competition Commission had treated Interbrew unfairly. It will resume its hearing on Friday to decide the next step. In the meantime, Interbrew and the commission are expected to try to come up with a compromise agreement.

Interbrew bought Bass Brewers last August, but in January the government ordered it to sell the British operations of the Bass unit. The watchdog group explained that with its earlier acquisition of the Whitbread brewing interests Interbew would have a combined 32% of the British beer market, raising competition concerns.

Judge Alan Moses said that the commission was wrong not to allow Interbrew to considering selling Whitbread instead. Since a major part of Whitbread's business is brewing Interbrew's Stella Artois beer under contract, the comission held that Whitbread on its own (and without the Stella Artois license) would be too weak a competitive force.

Interbrew has said it is willing to sell the Bass interests, but needs more time to conduct the sale. The Competition Commission and Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers had declined to permit it that time.

Analysts said they see South African Breweries and Dutch brewer Heineken as the favorites to buy Bass Brewers, but American brewers Anheuser-Busch and Coors have also been mentioned as possible suitors.

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