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Craft Beer Brewing in Thailand Takes Historic 1st Step Toward Legalization

Bill to liberalize liquor industry, break up Big 3 oligopoly passes 1st reading

Patrons raise pint glasses at Chit Beer, a craft brewery outside Bangkok, Thailand, run by army officer Wichit Saiklao.
Patrons raise pint glasses at Chit Beer, a craft brewery outside Bangkok, Thailand, run by army officer Wichit Saiklao.

Parliament on Wednesday took the first sip of an elixir that could dissolve Thailand’s “big beer” oligopoly, finally allowing small brewers to make craft beer legally.

The opposition Move Forward Party’s Progressive Liquor Bill poured through its first reading in the lower louse 178-137, with 15 abstentions.

A 25-member committee was set up to scrutinize the bill for a week. It then will be resubmitted for second and final readings in the House of Representatives.

The 178 MPs who voted for the booze bill included a group of ruling coalition members – 23 Democrats, nine from Bhumjaithai and two from the Palang Pracharath Party.

The bill was proposed by Move Forward MP Taopiphop Limjittrakorn, who himself was arrested himself five years ago for brewing his own craft beer. He has led the campaign since then to break up the oligopoly of Boon Raad Brewery Co., Thai Beverage Plc. and Thai Asia-Pacific Brewery Co., which controls 92% of the country’s alcohol distribution.

Craft beer brewers long have complained that the Big 3 have lawmakers in their pockets, stifling competition. Thai craft  makers are forced to brew their beer in neighboring countries and reimport their product in order to sell it here, adding to their cost and retail price.

The Big 3 also pushed through a law banning online sales of alcohol, which independent brewers and smaller distributors used during the coronavirus lockdowns to put them on equal footing with likes of Chang and Singha.

The booze will was rejected by the Cabinet when it was first deliberated by the lower house in February. The House then voted 207-196 in support of the Cabinet vetting the bill, which stalled the legislation for months.

Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat said that passing the Progressive Liquor Bill would support equality in business, allowing local communities to process their agricultural produce into alcoholic drinks.