Even though the Canadian government has said it will lift restrictions on imports of U.S. beer in the next three years, don't expect suds from the Heileman brewery in Halethorpe to be flowing north soon.
"They have been saying they will do it for the last five years, and they have done nothing," said Randy J. Smith, vice president and general counsel for G. Heileman Co., which is based in La Crosse, Wis.
Heileman has been fighting to open up the Canadian market since the mid-1970s. If the Canadian market is finally cracked, one of the chief beneficiaries would be the Halethorpe brewery, Heileman's only operation east of the Mississippi.
"Obviously, it would have a positive effect," Mr. Smith said of the impact on the Halethorpe brewery. But he said it is difficult to say how it would affect the brewery's 400 employees.
Employment at the brewery has increased in recent years as Heileman closed other Eastern operations, Mr. Smith said.
The Halethorpe brewery makes Colt 45, Black Label, Schmidt's, Blatz and Wiedemann. It also makes National Bohemian and National Premium for the Maryland market.
In response to a complaint filed by Heileman and Stroh Brewery Co., the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the 100-nation organization that oversees world trade, had ordered Canada to remove barriers to beer imports and allow foreign beer to be sold in stores. The Canadian government responded that the barriers would be lifted in the next three years.
Canadian restrictions range from not allowing U.S.-made beer to be sold at all to allowing it to be sold only in government stores that mark up the prices, Mr. Smith said.
Heileman accounts for about half of the 6 million cases of American beer exported to Canada annually, he said.
The office of the United States trade representative has said it could impose substantial duties on Canadian beer imports if the barriers are not lifted by April 10. Pat Norman, a spokeswoman for the trade representative's office, said her agency is continuing to negotiate a possible agreement on beer exports with the Canadian government.
Howard W. Collins, acting general manager of the the Brewers Association of Canada, said that the Canadian action was done in good faith and that he doubts the U.S. government will retaliate against Canadian beer.