French lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill that will prevent Amazon from offering free deliveries of discounted books in a move branded discriminatory by the American online retail giant.

The bill, designed to support struggling small bookstores, was backed unanimously in the lower house National Assembly and now looks set to become law following consideration by the Senate.

The draft law seeks to restrict the likes of Amazon from combining free delivery with discounts of up to five percent on books, the maximum allowed under existing French legislation.

In 1981, the government ruled that publishers must set a unique selling price for their books in a bid to protect small retailers, and set a limit of five percent on any discount.

Amazon was scathing in its response. "Any measure aimed at raising the price of books will only reduce French people's spending power and introduce discrimination against online consumers," the company said in a statement to AFP.

While the measure approved on Thursday is not specifically aimed at Amazon but at all retailers dispatching books by post, Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti has singled out the US giant's practices in the past, blasting both free deliveries and the firm's tax arrangements.

The online retailer reports its European sales through a Luxembourg-based holding company, taking advantage of the Duchy's relatively low corporate tax rates for earnings outside its borders.

Amazon insists the arrangement, which has been criticised by politicians across Europe, is legal under the European Union's single market rules.

During the parliamentary debate preceding the vote Thursday, Filippetti blasted Amazon for its "dumping strategy" and for selling books at a loss.

"Once they are in a dominant position and will have crushed our network of bookshops, they will bring prices back up," she said.

France is proud of a network of bookstores it says is "unique in the world" and crucial for culture to reach small towns.

The country has some 3,500 such stores -- including 600 to 800 so-called independent retailers that do not belong to a publishing house, a chain or a supermarket -- compared to just 1,000 in Britain.

Christian Kert, a lawmaker from the main opposition right-wing UMP who introduced the bill, said online retailing was the only sector in the book market that was on the rise.

"It's hard for independent bookstores to find their place as their return on investment is very low," he said.

The French government has recently been at loggerheads with a number of American companies including Google, Yahoo! and Apple.

Last week, the country's data protection watchdog announced it would take action against Google for failing to comply with national privacy guidelines -- a process that could see the US giant fined 150,000 euros ($204,000).

 

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