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Alberta changes beer measures following successful AIT complaint, launches trade challenge against Ontario

David K. Wilson

On Monday, the Alberta government announced that it will modify its measures relating to craft beer mark-ups to bring them in compliance with Canadian trade law.

In October 2015, Alberta government introduced measures which imposed higher mark-ups on beer produced in some provinces than beer produced in Alberta. In August 2016, Alberta government announced that all beer was subject to the same mark-up but in addition, small Alberta brewers were eligible for a grant equal to the difference between the 2015 and the 2016 rates.

Alberta is again making changes to the provincial beer measures. The current changes are in response to a complaint brought by Artisan Ales in April 2016 under the Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT). The AIT is a trade agreement between all provinces and the federal government to reduce or eliminate interprovincial trade barriers. As of July 1, 2017, the AIT has been replaced by the Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA), which contains broadly similar obligations to the AIT.

Artisan Ales challenged the Alberta beer measures as being contrary to the AIT. Ben Grant of Conway represented Artisan Ales in its complaint, which succeeded both in an initial decision and in a subsequent appeal. The panel decision resulted in Alberta having six months to bring its policies in compliance with the AIT. The deadline for Alberta to make the necessary changes is November 29, 2018.

On Monday, Alberta announced that it will cancel the grant that was available to small Alberta brewers while reinstituting a graduated mark-up available to all brewers.

Alberta also announced that it is launching a trade challenge against Ontario under the Canadian Free Trade Agreement. Alberta alleges that Ontario’s liquor policies are unfair and prevent Alberta manufacturers from accessing the Ontario market. The dispute resolution provisions of the CFTA provide a mandatory four month period during which Alberta, Ontario, and other provinces may have consultations regarding Alberta’s complaint. Following this period, Alberta may request that a panel be established to adjudicate its complaint.

For questions about interprovincial trade or other trade law issues, please contact David Wilson or Ben Grant.