Late last month, the Fair Trade Commission issued a warning to three liquor wholesalers whom the commission suspected of violating the Antimonopoly Law by selling beer to the supermarket chain Aeon at below cost. It was the first time the FTC ever made such a warning about dumping for alcoholic beverages, and while the media is reporting that the commission apparently does not have enough evidence to prove a clear violation of the law, the FTC has made an exception and issued the warning anyway, which would seem to indicate that it strongly believes some hanky-panky is going on.
The main reason for the warning in this instance is to protect smaller liquor retailers located near Aeon outlets who can’t hope to compete with such low prices. In fact, a closer reading of the coverage would seem to indicate that it is really Aeon who is bending the rules to its advantage rather than the three wholesalers — Mitsubishi Shokuhin, Nihon Shurui Hanbai, Itochu Shokuhin — but in any case the warning was mainly directed at them. Nevertheless, Aeon decided that the adverse publicity attached to the warning was serious enough for it to hold a press conference on July 23. A representative stated that the company made no such demand to the three suppliers to sell them beer at below cost.
Apparently, the FTC was suspicious of dumping as long ago as 2005, when it heard that 10 brands of beer and happoshu (malt liquor) were being sold to Aeon at prices that were below the price they paid to the manufacturers, even with ancillary costs like transportation factored in. Aeon would then add its own margin and, supposedly, still undersell competitors. For instance, the wholesaler would buy a case of beer from a manufacturer for ¥3,800 and then sell it to Aeon for ¥3,700. The wholesaler would supposedly make up for the beer loss by carrying out a business practice known in Japan as arari-mikusu, which means jacking up the prices of other alcoholic beverages they sold to Aeon. Consumers would pay more for these products than they normally would. Such a practice violates National Tax Agency guidelines for fair trade.