French retailers divided over government call to sell fuel at cost

By Blandine Henault and Forrest Crellin

PARIS (Reuters) -Two leading French retailers were at odds on Tuesday over the government’s call for petrol and diesel to be sold at cost price at the fuel pump, ahead of a meeting between the government and distributors.

Supermarket chain E-Leclerc said it would sell fuel at cost price seven days a week from the end of the month, while the Systeme U group said it would only sell at cost price over some weekends.

To help people cope with inflation, the French government initially considered lifting a ban on fuel being sold at a loss, but revised its plan in the face of opposition from distributors.

Its call for fuel to be sold at cost is the subject of talks later on Tuesday.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said at the National Assembly earlier that the meeting would be about sending a “simple message” to lower prices and make margins transparent.

Selling fuel at cost price can only be temporary, said Dominique Schelcher, head of Systeme U. The retail company’s next at-cost fuel price promotion would be the first weekend of October, he added.

“It cannot be permanent,” he told BFM Television.

Michel-Edouard Leclerc, president of the eponymous supermarket chain, said in a tweet that fuel at all 750 of its stores would be sold at cost from Sept. 29 through the week.

He said his group was making a “positive response to the president’s call”.

He added the price would have to take into account supply conditions and decisions by oil companies.

(Additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Barbara Lewis, Mark Potter and Christina Fincher)