Canadians could see new surcharges on their credit card purchases if a Competition Bureau tribunal decides to eliminate existing rules put in place by Visa and MasterCard, a consumers’ group is warning.

And if Australia’s experience with allowing credit card surcharges is anything to go by, Canadians could pay as much as 10 per cent more on some purchases, Bruce Cran of the Consumers’ Association of Canada told the Vancouver Sun.

Consumers who have been blissfully unaware of the implications [of the tribunal] may be in for a severe shock when they awake to find any payment they make with a credit card will be surcharged,” the group said in a statement released this week.

At issue is a Competition Bureau challenge to a rule put in place by Visa and MasterCard that forbids retailers from passing on credit card fees to consumers, and another rule that forbids them from declining “premium” credit cards that charge larger fees to retailers.

If the Bureau -- whose ruling is expected to come down any day -- chooses to overturn the rules, Canadian consumers could see additional charges on credit card purchases immediately, the Consumers’ Association says.

On this issue, the consumers’ group is allied with the major credit card issuers, who have warned that eliminating the rules could mean price shock at the cash register.

If these changes were implemented by the Competition Bureau, the result would be to enrich merchants at the expense of consumers,” MasterCard Canada president Betty DeVita said in a statement.

But some retailers argue that the current rules are anti-competitive and harmful to businesses, who have to pass on the costs to consumers anyway in the form of higher prices for all customers, regardless of how they pay.

Canada has among the highest Card Acceptance Fees in the world,” the Competition Bureau noted in a briefing on the case. “Canadian merchants that accept Visa and MasterCard credit cards pay a card acceptance fee from 1.5 to more than 3 percent of each purchase. Meanwhile, processing fees in most other countries are significantly lower.”

And even higher fees for “premium” cards, such as gold and platinum cards, are a particular sticking point for some retailers.

Writing in the National Post, Dan Kelly, the head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, argues that the higher costs of those premium cards are being shouldered by all consumers.

“In the past three years, Visa and MasterCard and their bank partners have introduced several premium cards and in so doing have hiked fees 30 per cent to 40 per cent. ... [P]remium cards have added nothing but new costs, which in turn are worked into prices and paid by everyone, including those who pay cash or use Interac debit,” he wrote.

He notes that the banks issuing the cards take 80 to 90 per cent of the money collected through fees to retailers.

Kelly also argues that allowing fees doesn’t mean fees will actually happen.

Small businesses are unlikely to impose fees on consumers very often. Nor are they likely to refuse a premium card from a customer. Merchants — particularly small ones — do not have the market clout and would not want to risk losing the customer to the shop down the street,” he wrote.

But Bruce Cran of the Consumers’ Association points to the example of Australia, which recently brought back rules forbidding credit card fees “after a nightmare decade of abuse.”

He points to the example of Cabcharge, which offers cards specifically for the taxi industry, and charges a 10 per cent fee.

Cran notes that some Australian retailers charged a flat fee for purchases, which in the case of some small purchases could add nearly 100 per cent to the cost.

In Australia it’s become a huge profit centre for them, as opposed to just recovering the cost,” he told the Vancouver Sun.

Forty U.S. states recently started allowing "checkout fees" for credit card users, which could be up to four per cent of the purchase price.

The new rules are the result of a settlement in the U.S.'s largest-ever anti-trust lawsuit, in which a group of merchants accused credit card companies and banks of price-fixing the fees charged to retailers.

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  • Canadian Household Debt By Region

  • 6. Atlantic Canada: $69,300

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 5. Quebec: $78,900

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 4. Manitoba & Saskatchewan: $84,900

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 3. Ontario: $124,700

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 2. British Columbia: $155,500

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • 1. Alberta: $157,700

    Number represents the average among those households that carry debt. Source: <a href="http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012002/article/11636-eng.pdf" target="_hplink">Statistics Canada</a>

  • Also On HuffPost:

    THE 10 COUNTRIES DEEPEST IN DEBT

  • 10. United Kingdom

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 80.9 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $1.99 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $35,860 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $2.46 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 8.4 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa Although the UK has one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios among developed nations, it has managed to keep its economy relatively stable. The UK is not part of the eurozone and has its own independent central bank. The UK's independence has helped protect it from being engulfed in the European debt crisis. Government bond yields have remained low. The country also has retained its Aaa credit rating, reflecting its secure financial standing. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 9. Germany

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 81.8 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $2.79 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $37,591 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $3.56 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 5.5 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa As the largest economy and financial stronghold of the EU, Germany has the most interest in maintaining debt stability for itself and the entire eurozone. In 2010, when Greece was on the verge of defaulting on its debt, the IMF and EU were forced to implement a 45 billion euro bailout package. A good portion of the bill was footed by Germany. The country has a perfect credit rating and an unemployment rate of just 5.5 percent, one of the lowest in Europe. Despite its relatively strong economy, Germany will have one of the largest debt-to-GDP ratios among developed nations of 81.8 percent, according to Moody's projections. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 8. France

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 85.4 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $2.26 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $33,820 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $2.76 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 9.9 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa France is the third-biggest economy in the EU, with a GDP of $2.76 trillion, just shy of the UK's $2.46 trillion. In January, after being long-considered one of the more economically stable countries, Standard & Poor's downgraded French sovereign debt from a perfect AAA to AA+. This came at the same time eight other euro nations, including Spain, Portugal and Italy, were also downgraded. S&P's action represented a serious blow to the government, which had been claiming its economy as stable as the UK's. Moody's still rates the country at Aaa, the highest rating, but changed the country's outlook to negative on Monday. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 7. United States

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 85.5 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $12.8 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $47,184 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $15.13 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 8.3 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aaa U.S. government debt in 2001 was estimated at 45.6 percent of total GDP. By 2011, after a decade of increased government spending, U.S. debt was 85.5 percent of GDP. In 2001, U.S. government expenditure as a percent of GDP was 33.1 percent. By 2010, is was 39.1 percent. In 2005, U.S. debt was $6.4 trillion. By 2011, U.S. debt has doubled to $12.8 trillion, according to Moody's estimates. While Moody's still rates the U.S. at a perfect Aaa, last August Standard & Poor's downgraded the country from AAA to AA+. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 6. Belgium

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 97.2 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $479 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $37,448 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $514 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 7.2 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aa1 Belgium's public debt-to-GDP ratio peaked in 1993 at about 135 percent, but was subsequently reduced to about 84 percent by 2007. In just four years, the ratio has risen to nearly 95 percent. In December 2011, Moody's downgraded Belgium's local and foreign currency government bonds from Aa1 to Aa3. In its explanation of the downgrade, the rating agency cited "the growing risk to economic growth created by the need for tax hikes or spending cuts." In January of this year, the country was forced to make about $1.3 billion in spending cuts, according to The Financial Times, to avoid failing "to meet new European Union fiscal rules designed to prevent a repeat of the eurozone debt crisis." <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 5. Portugal

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 101.6 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $257 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $25,575 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $239 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 13.6 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Ba3 Portugal suffered greatly from the global recession -- more than many other countries -- partly because of its low GDP per capita. In 2011, the country received a $104 billion bailout from the EU and the IMF due to its large budget deficit and growing public debt. The Portuguese government now "plans to trim the budget deficit from 9.8 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 4.5 percent in 2012 and to the EU ceiling of 3 percent in 2013," according Business Week. The country's debt was downgraded to junk status by Moody's in July 2011 and downgraded again to Ba3 on Monday. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 4. Ireland

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 108.1 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $225 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $39,727 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $217 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 14.5 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Ba1 Ireland was once the healthiest economy in the EU. In the early 2000s, it had the lowest unemployment rate of any developed industrial country. During that time, nominal GDP was growing at an average rate of roughly 10 percent each year. However, when the global economic recession hit, Ireland's economy began contracting rapidly. In 2006, the Irish government had a budget surplus of 2.9 percent of GDP. In 2010, it accrued a staggering deficit of 32.4 percent of GDP. Since 2001, Ireland's debt has increased more than 500 percent. Moody's estimates that the country's general government debt was $224 billion, well more than its GDP of $216 billion. Moody's rates Ireland's sovereign debt at Ba1, or junk status. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 3. Italy

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 120.5 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $2.54 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $31,555 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $2.2 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 8.9 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> A3 Italy's large public debt is made worse by the country's poor economic growth. In 2010, GDP grew at a sluggish 1.3 percent. This was preceded by two years of falling GDP. In December 2011, the Italian government passed an austerity package in order to lower borrowing costs. The Financial Times reports that according to consumer association Federconsumatori, the government's nearly $40 billion package of tax increases and spending cuts will cost the average household about $1,500 each year for the next three years. On Monday, Moody's downgraded Italy's credit rating to A3, from A2. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 2. Greece

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 168.2 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $489 billion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $28,154 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $303 billion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 19.2 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Ca Greece became the poster child of the European financial crisis in 2009 and 2010. After it was bailed out by the rest of the EU and the IMF, it appeared that matters could not get any worse. Instead, Greece's economy has continued to unravel, prompting new austerity measures and talks of an even more serious default crisis. In 2010, Greece's debt as a percent of GDP was 143 percent. Last year, Moody's estimates Greece's debt increased to 163 percent of GDP. Greece would need a second bailout worth 130 billion euro -- the equivalent of roughly $172 billion -- in order to prevent the country from defaulting on its debt in March. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>

  • 1. Japan

    <strong>Debt as a percentage of GDP:</strong> 233.1 percent <strong>General government debt:</strong> $13.7 trillion <strong>GDP per capita (PPP):</strong> $33,994 <strong>Nominal GDP:</strong> $5.88 trillion <strong>Unemployment rate:</strong> 4.6 percent <strong>Credit rating:</strong> Aa3 Japan's debt-to-GDP ratio of 233.1 percent is the highest among the world's developed nations by a large margin. Despite the country's massive debt, it has managed to avoid the type of economic distress affecting nations such as Greece and Portugal. This is largely due to Japan's healthy unemployment rate and population of domestic bondholders, who consistently fund Japanese government borrowing. Japanese vice minister Fumihiko Igarashi said in a speech in November 2011 that "95 percent of Japanese government bonds have been financed domestically so far, with only 5 percent held by foreigners." Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has proposed the doubling of Japan's 5 percent national sales tax by 2015 to help bring down the nation's debt. <a href="http://247wallst.com/2012/02/14/the-tencountries-deepest-in-debt/#ixzz1mSdyJAeo" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St.</a>