A proposal by Australia's central bank to revise interchange regulations could result in higher card-acceptance fees for some merchants, according to the Australian Retailers Association.

The Reserve Bank of Australia said last week it would maintain its supervision of interchange rates because competition had yet to lower card costs. The central bank also said the "difference in regulatory treatment" between debit cards carrying such international brands as MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc. and those of the domestic EFTPOS network "may be detrimental to competition."

The central bank says it might change interchange rules so they are "consistent" for domestic and international debit brands. The EFTPOS network includes some 650,000 payment terminals deployed in Australia and New Zealand.

The retailer group said last week that it worries merchants will end up paying more to accept domestic debit cards.

"The latest proposal will price every debit card payment at the highest existing rate," said Russell Zimmerman, the group's executive director.

Matthew Sinclair, the executive director of Carpadium Consulting in Australia, said the central bank could raise EFTPOS interchange rates or lower international debit rates.

"If it's the former, then I would expect that merchants will pass these extra fees directly on to consumers, which will mean that the differences between using debit and credit at [the point of sale] will effectively disappear," he said. "I am struggling to see how this will benefit the end consumer, and I don't imagine that this will be all that popular with merchants."

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