U.K. must review Bass sale

Interbrew's options could include keeping Bass, selling other interests

May 25, 2001 - United Kingdom representatives have agreed to throw out an antitrust-commission recommendation that Interbrew be forced to sell Bass Brewers, essentially sending the issue back for more regulatory review.


A government spokesman said U.K. Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers will refer the case to Fair Trading Director General John Vickers, who will "advise him further" on how to proceed.

The decision came after representatives of the government and the Belgian brewer met in a hearing before a High Court judge Friday. He ruled Wednesday that the Competition Commission's procedure for finding Interbrew's acquisition of Bass anticompetitive earlier this year was unfair and said the commission's "decision cannot stand."

Regulators had argued that Interbrew's acquisition of Bass Brewers last June stifled competition because it gave Interbrew brands such as Carling Black Label and Tennent's Lager to go along with the Whitbread brewing assets purchased earlier in the year. The acquisitions gave Interbrew control of 32% of the U.K. beer market and four of the top 10 beer brands.

It ordered Interbrew to sell the Bass interest. Interbrew argued that it was unfair to insist that Bass be sold, rather than smaller parts of its U.K. business. Interbrew will surely end up selling part of what it acquired in 2000, and many analysts expect it will still be part of the Bass interests.

A spokeswoman for the Competition Commission said the authority and the government will pay 75% of Interbrew's legal costs. She also said the commission will review its procedures.

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