Scottish & Newcastle said the sale of S&N Retail had enabled the company to become ‘a financially robust and focused international brewer’. Speaking at the company’s AGM, Sir Brian Stewart, the chairman, said that trading in the first four months of the year has been better than the comparative period in 2003. The company said that its company pension scheme was currently suffering a £424m shortfall, which would be cut to £200m through a £200m contribution in addition to the payment made in December. Stewart said that trading in the United Kingdom since January had been led by good performances from Foster's and Kronenbourg 1664, with market share growing in both the on and off trade. In Western Europe the market was described as being more robust than last year, with the company benefiting accordingly. In France, as in the United Kingdom, growth is being driven by the premium brands. In Belgium, the weak on trade market is being balanced by growth in the off trade. In Portugal, a strong off trade has led to good growth in beer volumes, particularly from the Sagres brand. In Finland, the change to the local duty regime ahead of the accession of the low duty Baltic countries to the EU in May, has boosted the market in the short term, but the full effects of the anticipated increase in beer imports have yet to be seen.