The European Commission has confirmed that the Belgian-based brewing group, Interbrew, is likely to be allowed to retain its exclusive distribution contracts with pubs and restaurants in Belgium.

Following a two-year investigation, the EC is prepared to clear the agreements on the condition that Interbrew allows the pubs and restaurants also to sell competitor bottled brands. "We're saying in principle that the contracts are okay, but we will give competitors a chance to comment," said EU Commission spokesman, Tilman Luederk. A final ruling is anticipated in a month's time.

Interbrew welcomed the statement. "This gives us the freedom to work with pub owners with few restrictions," said Interbrew spokesman Guy Dewulf. In common with other brewers, Interbrew helps to finance leases or brewing equipment in return for pub operators selling only Interbrew products.

However, under EU law, Interbrew's dominant position in the Belgian market might have required Interbrew to cancel most such exclusive deals. But regulators have opted to determine the market size based on the number of outlets rather than on beer volume sold. Interbrew has exclusive agreements with around 12,000 of the total 52,000 restaurants and pubs in the country.