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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anti-Monopoly Team Bans Bar Codes

The State Anti-Monopoly Committee has officially banned a Moscow city government scheme to control the alcohol trade by forcing all distributors and distillers to purchase bar codes.

The committee, which enforces competition and free trade laws in Russia, issued a ruling Thursday that bans the bar codes on the grounds that they restrict the movement of goods between Russia's regions and usurps the regulation of wholesale and retail trade, which is a federal responsibility. The committee gave the city until Feb. 15 to drop the bar coderegulations.

City Hall says the bar codes, which will cost up to 30 kopeks (5 cents) are necessary to drive out bootleggers from the market and to control the quality of alcohol sold in the city. Retail sales of vodka without the bar codes were to have been banned starting Feb. 15, and of other spirits starting March 15.

Yury Kokovikhin, deputy chairman of the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, said it was impossible that the city of Moscow would openly disobey the committee's ruling but the city might win a suspension of the ruling by challenging it in court.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said earlier this week the city would "disobey" any ban.

Kokovikhin said the committee has a good record of success in blocking attempts by 49 of Russia's 88 regions to introduce plans similar to Moscow's. In 17 cases, regional governments backed down as soon as the State Anti-Monopoly Committee imposed its formal ban and, in another seven cases, the committee defeated the regions in court.

Most of the 33 warehouses and 20 distilleries licensed to handle Moscow's bar code system were Friday continuing to prepare for the new system.

Under the system, every consignment of alcohol to Moscow is supposed to be tested by the city. But the number and location of the testing laboratories are kept secret "in order to prevent an undesirable pressure from being put on them," said Sergei Babushkin, director of Mosalkogol-Kontrol, a city-owned company that is running the system.

Some alcohol distributors said they had already had their goods tested, a procedure they said takes two to three days. But others said they still had not received any information on the scheme.

While the bar codes themselves will cost no more than 30 kopeks per bottle, warehousing costs during the testing procedure could raise the price. Quotes from two warehouses licensed under the scheme added another 50 kopeks to the cost per bottle.

Foreign importers have protested the plan, which they say is time consuming and will end up adding $1 onto the price of a bottle of alcohol.

Importers also complained that no open tender was held to select warehouse facilities for the program, a European Business Club representative said.