January 21, 2010 / 3:21 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 2-AB InBev Belgian brewery blockades to end Friday

* Unions to lift Belgian blockades after two weeks

* Third mediation session ends positively

* Unions say AB InBev has withdrawn its job cut plan

* Talks set to begin

(Adds shares, background)

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), the world’s largest beer maker, and unions reached a deal on Thursday to end a two-week blockade of Belgian breweries that was drying up supplies of local brands.

Belgian workers have sealed off the entrances to the company’s large plants in Leuven and Liege and for a week the smaller Hoegaarden factory in protest at AB InBev’s plan to shed 299 of its 2,700 Belgian workers.

Two mediation attempts failed to break the deadlock. Unions had demanded that AB InBev withdraw the plan before entering any discussions. A third attempt on Thursday finally bore fruit.

“The plan has been withdrawn,” said Kris Croonenborghs of the ABVV union. “I believe the blockades will end by tomorrow.”

The company’s Belgian unit, InBev Belgium, said it had accepted the recommendations of mediators and that dialogue could begin.

The dispute has pressured AB InBev shares. The Belgian business is a tiny part of the company’s empire, but some investors had feared the action could spread.

They were down 1.18 percent at 34.24 euros at 1622 GMT. The FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 was 1.4 percent lower.

“There had been fear over the export of some beers. It’s never good to have industrial action even in a small part of the business. This is good news, but today the whole market is falling,” a Brussels-based trader said.

InBev Belgium exports some 55 percent of its beers, with some impact in neighbouring markets.

The mediators urged InBev to draw up a plan together with unions and to hold a Europe-wide works council.

AB InBev, which also makes Budweiser and Beck’s, has said it could cut some 10 percent of its 8,000 strong workforce in western Europe due to falling beer markets.

InBev Belgium temporarily laid off its Belgian brewery workers on Wednesday saying the blockades had halted production, but the employees should be back at work on Friday.

Belgian drinkers, who are among the biggest consumers of beer in the world, have started to feel the effects.

Supermarket chain Delhaize DELB.BR has run out of InBev beers Leffe, Stella Artois and Hoegaarden at its central depot, except for example in non-alcoholic form.

Carrefour (CARR.PA) had said it was stocking up with more rival beers, such as Heineken’s (HEIN.AS) Maes. (Editing by Erica Billingham and Sharon Lindores)

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