Heileman wants Canada to open its beer market

December 24, 1991|By David Conn

G. Heileman Brewing Co. Inc.'s New Year's resolution is to sell more beer in Canada, and it's hoping that a good word from Gov. William Donald Schaefer will help.

The company, whose plant in Halethorpe brews almost two dozen brands of beer and malt liquor, is hoping to hear by the end of this week whether the United States will impose sanctions, in the form of retaliatory trade tariffs, against Canada for allegedly limiting the sale and distribution of American beer in the provinces.

Canadian officials have responded by saying that any action by the United States would be premature because Canada has vowed to respond to the charges at a February council meeting of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the guiding group for international commerce.

If the sanctions are imposed, they may loosen Canada's alleged resolve to stop U.S. beers at the border. Heileman officials say the Halethorpe plant in Baltimore County could become much more important.

That's because Heileman has had limited success in selling its beers in some of the western provinces of Canada but almost no luck breaking into the eastern provinces, particularly Ontario, said Randy J. Smith, vice president and general counsel at the company's headquarters in La Crosse, Wis.

"The Baltimore plant has a key role because a lot of the eastern provincial production would come out of Baltimore," Mr. Smith said. He noted that the company has no other active facilities east of La Crosse.

The plant on Hollins Ferry Road employs about 400 people and produces Colt 45 malt liquor and regional brews such as National Premium and National Bohemian, sold in this area, and Lone Star, Rheingold and Red, White & Blue.

In a 1990 petition to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Heileman charged that three practices by Canadian provincial governments have slowed the flow of American beer to a trickle:

* "Listing," the process by which the government monopolies decide which foreign beers to buy.

* Exorbitant mark-ups that the provinces add to the price of imported beers.

* Distribution restrictions. Heileman charges that foreign beers are sold only in the relatively few government-run liquor stores, while domestic beers also are sold in grocery stores.

So Mr. Schaefer, at the behest of Heileman, wrote two weeks ago to Ms. Hills and asked her to impose sanctions against Canada. The deadline for a decision from Ms. Hills is Dec. 29, but a spokesman in her office said a pronouncement is expected by Friday.

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