MasterCard International's U.S. directors have voted to bar member banks from issuing cards with American Express or other competing brands.

The action was taken last weekend during MasterCard meetings in London. It aligns the group with Visa U.S.A., which enacted a similar policy in 1991 that American Express Co. would like to see overturned.

Also in line with Visa, MasterCard's global board decided to delegate comarketing decisions to each regional board. Following the U.S. lead could provoke the ire of American Express, which has invited banks to sell its products and has argued that any restrictions are anticompetitive.

In a statement Monday, American Express accused MasterCard directors of acting in "their narrow interests as opposed to the interests of consumers and the vast majority of the association's 6,000-plus members."

MasterCard said its U.S. board "determined that support to the MasterCard brand would be diminished if its members participated in competing programs," though not Visa, JCB, or Diners Club, which are bank- owned.

A spokesman for MasterCard declined to comment on how its action might be affected by a Justice Department inquiry into American Express' allegations.

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