The UK Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers, has decided to refer Interbrew’s acquisition of Bass Brewers to the Competition Commission. However, he also announced today that he would not be referring the Belgian brewer’s acquisition of Whitbread’s beer division. Interbrew bought Whitbread’s beer interests for £400m in May and then struck a deal with Bass for its brewing arm the following month for £2.3 billion. The Interbrew/Whitbread/Bass portfolio could control as much as 32% of the UK beer market.The decisions by Byers are in accordance with the advice of the Director General of Fair Trading (DGFT). Byers said: “The merger raises competition concerns in respect of the market for the production and distribution of beer.” He continued: “In reaching this view, I have taken into consideration the DGFT’s advice that, at brewing level, the merger reduces the number of national brewers from four to three, creates a new market leader and significantly increases the level of concentration in the hands of the top two brewers.”The Commission now has until 6 December to make its report. In the meantime Byers will make an order, in line with the Fair Trading Act, requiring Interbrew to take no action to integrate the Interbrew and Bass businesses.Under the terms of the Bass sale though, the purchase by Interbrew is complete because the EC competition authorities did not refer the acquisition. Therefore responsibility for any action imposed on the sale, including sell-offs to reduce market share, will lie with Interbrew.

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