Tuesday, Mike Lee (R–UT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, is holding a hearing on Anheuser–Busch Inbev’s proposal to purchase SABMiller.
The hearing is expected to examine how the proposed merger of the world’s two biggest beer producers would impact competition and consumers across the country.
Below is Senator Lee’s opening statement, as prepared for delivery:
The subject of today’s hearing is the proposed acquisition of SABMiller by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the second largest and largest beer producers in the world, respectively. AB InBev announced the acquisition, for approximately $105 billion, on November 11. Concurrent with that transaction, the parties announced a plan to divest SABMiller’s stake in MillerCoors to joint venture partner Molson Coors Brewing Company. That stake represents the entirety of SABMiller’s U.S. presence.
As a result, the parties expect their merger to have little if any impact on the American beer market. If true, this will obviate the vast majority of the concerns that traditionally accompany a merger of this size. Other market participants, however, have voiced concerns about AB InBev’s influence on distribution channels and the market access of small craft brewers, alleging that AB InBev is seeking greater vertical integration and attempting to exclude craft brewers from the market.
As we examine these central questions today and look at the overall state of competition in the beer industry, we must focus that review on how the current competitive dynamics will be impacted by the deal at hand. This analysis must consider both components of the transaction: the acquisition, as well as the divestiture of SABMiller’s entire U.S. business. Moreover, we will do well to remember that antitrust analysis is extremely fact specific and not driven by mere speculation or suggestion.
While legitimate antitrust concerns may exist with respect to AB InBev’s relationship with distributors, this hearing is first and foremost about its acquisition of SABMiller. Under the Clayton Act, the relevant inquiry is whether the effects of the deal “may be substantially to lessen competition, or to tend to create a monopoly,” not whether conditions might be attached to the merger’s approval to restructure the market to the liking of the government or private plaintiffs. When, as is the case here, the acquiring party intends to divest the entirety of the acquired company’s U.S. business, the transaction’s effects on competition in American markets are likely to be negligible.
The American beer market is a more than $100 billion business, and delivers a product that, in both its national brand and regional craft brew forms, holds a special place in American culture and hospitality. Today’s hearing will provide a much needed opportunity to assess competition in the industry as it relates to this historic deal. I look forward to hearing from our esteemed witnesses and the productive discussion their testimony will no doubt inspire.