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French Finance Minister to meet retailers this week over food inflation worries

Weekly cabinet meeting in Paris

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) - French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday he will meet retailers this week to find ways to help shoppers cope with high food price inflation, with a view to finding a solution to the problem by March 15.

"I will hold talks with French retailers this week... March 15 will be the deadline," Le Maire told BFM TV.

"There is no reason to see for mid-March a flight upwards in food prices. Let's stop playing with the fears of the French people," he added.

Asked if the solution under consideration was for retailers to agree to sell an anti-inflation basket of everyday essential goods at knockdown prices, Le Maire said: "It will be the solution they find the most efficient."

The government initially said it wanted big retail chains such as Carrefour, Casino and the family-owned grocery dynasties Auchan and E. Leclerc, to sell a basket of about 50 everyday items at purchasing price from next month.

However, only smaller chains such as discounter Lidl and Systeme U have so far agreed to the government idea. The bigger retailers such as Carrefour say they have already taken action by blocking prices on a set number of goods.

The INSEE official statistics agency forecast last week that food price inflation would remain at 13% through the first half of the year.

Le Maire reiterated on Monday he expected inflation to ease from the middle of the year and for France to have positive economic growth in 2023, with 'even more positive growth' in 2024.

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Kirsten Donovan)