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France says energy firms agree tariff to help small businesses

La Rencontre des Entrepreneurs de France, La REF in Paris

By Tassilo Hummel and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) - France's power suppliers have agreed to offer small businesses struggling with price rises a guaranteed tariff of 280 euros ($298) on average per megawatt hour, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said.

"This is a guaranteed tariff and it is an enormous relief,"said Le Maire after a meeting on Friday with energy executives.

President Emmanuel Macron had on Thursday urged energysuppliers including EDF and TotalEnergies todo more to help customers cope with the surge in energy pricesthat has in recent months driven inflation to record highs.

Macron had said it was unacceptable that companies reapexcessive profits when many small businesses are struggling.

A large part of France's small businesses, which accordingto the official definition include all firms with fewer than 10employees, are already protected by a 15% price increase cap forhousehold gas and power tariffs.

But some last year needed to sign new contracts on the openmarket when prices jumped and, lacking sufficient cash reserves,are now struggling with their bills.

Earlier this week, Le Maire hosted a crisis meeting withenergy suppliers to help France's trademark bakeries, many ofwhich are teetering after grain and power prices surged.

Macron on Thursday widened the government's efforts to helpsmall enterprises and said all contracts across sectors abovethe country's energy regulator's reference price at the end of2022, which was about 280 euros per MWh, should be reviewed.

Le Maire said after Friday's meeting and "three hours ofnegotiations", however, that the newly agreed guaranteed pricewas a less complicated and more effective solution.

Small business owners can now tell suppliers that they wantthe guaranteed price through a standardised form, he added.

($1 = 0.9408 euros)

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Richard Lough and Alexander Smith)