Italian retailers, financial firms revamp talks to cut card payment fees

By Giuseppe Fonte and Valentina Za

ROME (Reuters) - Italian banks, payment firms and retailers are seeking to end a stalemate over the centre-right government's efforts to reduce the cost of electronic payments, two people familiar with the matter said.

The latest scheme under discussion envisages zero fees on small transactions worth up to 10 euros ($11), together with a generic commitment by financial firms to cut fees on items between 10 and 30 euros, the people added.

An accord along these lines would not alter significantly the current situation, with most of the smallest payments already exempt from fees.

However, a formal deal would allow the government to drop the threat of a windfall tax on payment providers it has pledged to impose in the absence of an agreement.

The issue of card payments has taken centre stage in Italy, a digital laggard within the European Union where cash in 2019 accounted for 82% of transactions against a euro area average of 73%.

The government of nationalist Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni last year moved to address complaints by small retailers about fines introduced by former PM Mario Draghi's administration for shops refusing card payments.

After dropping plans to axe fines on small payments due to criticism from the EU, Italy said it would broker a deal to cut fees charged by financial firms on electronic transactions worth up to 30 euros for businesses with annual revenues of up to 400,000 euros.

Rome included a provision in this year's budget that envisaged a tax of up to 50% on net proceeds from those transactions in the absence of an agreement by the end of March.

The deadline was not binding, allowing the parties involved to keep discussions going as an accord remained elusive.

Banks' profits will remain in focus even if the parties clinch a deal, as the Treasury is studying a separate windfall tax on domestic banks to fund relief measures for families hit by rising inflation, government sources previously said.

($1 = 0.9084 euros)

(Editing by Keith Weir)