BATF WANTS TO KEEP CORK ON ALCOHOL SLOTTING FEES

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms wants to keep slotting fees out of the retail alcohol business, but whether it succeeds will be played out in the next six months.

The BATF expects to take at least that long to finish overhauling regulations for slotting fees, cooperative advertising and other industry trade practices. Comments on the proposed changes will be accepted for the next two months, and will be accompanied by testimony from two planned public hearings.

Apparently, the BATF and its parent, the Department of the Treasury, didn't agree on slotting fees, by which wholesalers pay retailers for precious shelf space. Alcohol industry representatives said there was some dispute between the BATF and the Treasury Department over whether to allow the fees.

That view would seem to be supported by the BATF. Slotting fees "is an issue that was not settled and for which a position was not finalized until we published our proposed regulatory changes" last week, said Harry McCabe, chief of the BATF's Market Compliance Division.

The final agency position on slotting fees could change, depending on industry reaction to the proposed rewrite, said Candace Moberly, deputy chief, industry compliance. She said the final BATF proposal on slotting fees reflected a "consensus" position of the agency and officials from the Treasury Department, where there was less aversion to allowing slotting fees.

"Anything is possible," Ms. Moberly said. "There will be comments that slotting fees increase possibilities for competition, and my assumption is that retailers would be supporting of them."

Industry insiders who declined to be identified before formally commenting on the BATF proposal said the proposed changes would let wholesalers provide more expensive promotional items to retailers. The proposal would increase the $50 to $100 limit to $500, Ms. Moberly said.

Also, the industry officials said the proposed rewrite would allow marketers to offer prizes to retailers and bars, but not to individual employees, and would grant the BATF new subpoena powers against wholesalers and retailers to investigate potential regulatory infractions.

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