The Competition Tribunal has rejected a complaint on behalf of Canadian retailers seeking a break from the fees they are charged for accepting 'premium' credit cards from customers.

The tribunal issued its ruling Tuesday, announcing the status quo would remain in place,

As is their practice, the tribunal did not release the reasons for the decision, saying they were confidential. However, the tribunal did say the original complaint was justified.

The ruling is a response to a landmark complaint by the Competition Bureau, which argued that credit card companies exert too much power in forcing merchants to accept certain premium cards, and pay extra fees for doing so.

Those fees account for between $5 and $7 billion each year, the organization said.

The complaint also challenged the fact that merchants are not allowed apply a surcharge to consumers using the premium cards to make purchases.

In a statement summarizing the decision, the Competition Tribunal recognized the no-surcharge rule had resulted in "an adverse effect on competition," but also said customers would react negatively to surcharges.

Instead, they suggested "the proper solution to the concerns raised by the Commissioner” would be to establish a regulatory framework to ensure merchants, consumers and credit card companies are treated fairly.

Credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard typically offer basic, no-frills cards, as well as premium cards that provide benefits such as travel points, upgrades, or cash back. They typically have higher rates than the basic cards, and stricter qualification requirements.

Credit card interchange fees range from 1.54 per cent for accepting the basic cards to as high as 2.65 per cent for premium cards. Interac, by comparison, charges a flat fee per transaction.

John Pecman, commissioner of competition with the Competition Bureau, said he was "disappointed" with the ruling and said the group would consider their next steps.

In the meantime, he said merchants have no choice but to pass on the high costs of some credit card transactions to all of their customers.

"Credit card fees paid by Canadian merchants are among the highest in the world, estimated at $5 billion per year," Pecman said in a statement. "As a result, all Canadians pay higher prices than they should, regardless of how they pay for their purchases.

In its filing, the Competition Bureau complained about two key areas of concern:

Surcharging: Though merchants are allowed to add a small surcharge for Interac purchases, it is against the rules to do so for credit card purchases. The bureau is pushing to change that.

Honouring all cards: Currently, credit card giants Visa and Mastercard require merchants to accept all of their cards, regardless of the fees they carry. Merchants would like to be allowed to pick and choose which cards they accept, based on how much it will cost them to do so.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business had said merchants need to be able to fight back against the powerful credit card companies if they hope to remain lucrative. They hoped Tuesday's ruling would give them the option to add surcharges for some cards and refuse those which cost them a lot of money to accept.

"CFIB believes very few merchants would surcharge for credit card acceptance, but the power to do it would cause Visa and MasterCard to rethink future fee hikes," said CFIB President Dan Kelly, in a statement prior to the ruling.

Canada's Commissioner of Competition filed a formal complaint with the tribunal in May 2012, accusing Visa and MasterCard of engaging in anti-competitive behaviour.