The Department of Finance and Personnel has unveiled plans to charge higher rates to retailers operating in large stores and redistribute the proceeds to small businesses.
Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the plans, which would expand the small business rate relief scheme to another 9,000 small businesses, were about "co-existence in the marketplace".
"The downturn has been very difficult for most sectors of the economy but some have fared better than others during this period," he said.
"The large retail sector is a case in point.
"I think it is right that small businesses get additional help and that this should be funded by asking the largest retailers to pay more."
The new Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, which represents the affected multiples, said the plans were "a threat to future economic prosperity".
But the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) gave the proposals the thumbs-up.
Head of external affairs Roger Pollen said: "The FSB believes this consultation sends out a clear message of the Executive's recognition of the importance of the local small business sector and the vital role it plays in helping to rejuvenate the economy."