* U.S. ‘interchange fee’ is around 2 pct - group
* Fee is 0.30 pct in EU, 0.50 pct in Australia - group
* Networks, financial companies say fees are lower, fair (Updates with Visa, MasterCard, and Electronic Payments Coalition comments)
NEW YORK, Sept 17 (Reuters) - U.S. merchants pay credit card fees up to six times greater than those paid by retailers in other countries, a U.S. business group said on Thursday, pushing for legislation to limit such fees.
The Merchants Payments Coalition -- comprising retailers, supermarkets, convenience stores and other businesses -- said U.S. banks charge about 2 percent of every transaction when a customer uses a credit card.
That charge, known as the interchange fee, compares with 0.30 percent in the European Union and 0.50 percent in Australia, the group said.
But the Electronic Payments Coalition, which represents payment card networks and financial services companies, said interchange fees in the United States average 1.6 percent and are lower than in countries such as Italy, Switzerland, Japan opposes the bills.
Merchants and some lawmakers complain that U.S. retailers have been blocked from negotiating a fee structure with credit card networks Visa Inc (V.N) and MasterCard Inc (MA.N), whose members are banks.
Visa and MasterCard set the fee structure and control almost three-fourths of the volume of transactions on general-purpose cards, but banks charge the fees.
Critics say such fees end up being passed on to consumers, and any limit on fees would benefit cardholders.
But MasterCard and the Electronic Payments Coalition said in Australia, where interchange fees were limited a few years ago, consumers did not benefit and credit card fees rose.
“Consumers are well aware that legislation is a Trojan horse that likely will lead to higher prices for cardholders while retailers pocket the savings,” Bill Sheedy, group president of the Americas for Visa, said in a statement.
In a study released on Thursday, Visa said over 60 percent of consumers said retailers should pay the cost of accepting credit cards.
Under two bills pending in the U.S. Congress, merchants would have greater access to negotiations with banks to establish fees. Visa and MasterCard say merchants and retailers do have an opportunity to negotiate lower fees.
U.S. interchange fees rose to $48 billion last year from $42 billion in 2007 and were up 33 percent from 2006. (Reporting by Juan Lagorio; editing by John Wallace and Leslie Gevirtz)