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French supermarkets to face same lockdown limits as small shops: minister

PARIS (Reuters) - French supermarkets will face the same limits on selling non-essential goods as small shops but shopowners are not allowed to challenge government’s new COVID lockdown rules, the finance minister said.

FILE PHOTO: Bruno Le Maire, French Minister of the Economy, Finance, and Recovery, wearing a protective face mask, leaves following the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Small shopowners have complained bitterly about being forced to close while supermarkets can sell “non-essential goods” such as shoes, clothes, beauty products and flowers because they also sell food.

Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Sunday supermarkets will have to stop selling non-essential goods, but shopkeepers - who have stocked up for Christmas and want to recover from the spring lockdown - want to remain open and mayors in several cities across France have backed them.

“Challenging the state with municipal decrees is irresponsible. One cannot challenge the state’s authority and jeopardise the health of our compatriots,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on RTL radio.

He added that once the rate of infection slows, some shops may be allowed to open under certain conditions such as by making an appointment. A decision will be taken on Nov. 12.

Meanwhile, supermarkets will face the same bans on selling non-essential products as small shops and will not be allowed to sell products such as shoes, clothing and flowers, he said.

Le Maire also said that overcrowding in supermarkets was unacceptable and that they would have to stick to the rule of a maximum of one person per four square metres, or 250 people in a 1,000 square metre supermarket.

The French lobby for small and medium-sized enterprises, CPME, said closing the non-food aisles of supermarkets is a short-term solution and asked for local authorities to be given the power to let shops open if health precautions are taken.

“We do not want the only winners to be the international e-commerce platforms, who do not play by the rules, notably on taxes,” CPME said.

Asked about regulating online retailer Amazon AMZN.O, Le Maire said France would collect tax on the giant internet firms in 2020 and would fight for a European tax initiative on online firms for early 2021.

Conservative member of parliament Yves Hemedinger said he would table a bill to let non-food retailers remain open.

Reporting by Geert De Clercq and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Catherine Evans, Jacqueline Wong and Nick Macfie

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