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Wed, Nov 03, 2004 - Page 12 News List

Wal-Mart to open up to 15 stores in China next year

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the world's largest retailer, said it plans to open as many as 15 new stores in China next year, expanding in the world's fastest-growing economy as the government lifts curbs on foreign store operators.

Joe Hatfield, Wal-Mart's chief executive for Asia, gave the forecast in an interview before a press conference in Beijing.

Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart yesterday opened its 40th Chinese store in the central city of Wuhan.

Wal-Mart, Carrefour SA and other overseas companies are stepping up plans to open more stores in China as the government prepares to remove restrictions next month on the number, location and ownership of foreign retail outlets.

China is easing rules to meet WTO pledges, widening access to a market where retail sales are growing at a 14 percent annual rate. From Dec. 11, China will let overseas retailers open outlets in any city in the country.

The US retailer, which has stores in 20 Chinese cities, has invested as much as 1.6 billion yuan (US$193 billion) in the country, the company said in a release. Wal-Mart plans to have 43 outlets in China by the end of this year, spokeswoman Amy Wyatt said in August.

Germany's Metro Group, the world's fourth-largest retailer, plans to increase the number of its stores in China by more than half before the end of next year as the nation opens up its retail industry.

The Dusseldorf-based company plans to add two stores in China by the end of this year and another 10 next year, Chief Executive Hans-Joachim Koerber said in a statement.

Metro has 21 Cash & Carry stores in China, hiring more than 5,100 people and serving 2 million customers. The company plans to have more than 50 stores in the country in three to five years time.

"China is the center of our Asian expansion," said Koerber. "In mid-term, Metro Cash & Carry wants to generate 10 percent of its total sales in Asia."

France's Carrefour, the largest overseas retailer in China, aims to open as many as 15 superstores a year in the country, its largest and fastest-growing Asian market, Philippe Jarry, regional manager for Asia, said in a May newsletter to shareholders.

Average disposable income in China's urban areas, home to a third of the nation's 1.3 billion people, rose 40 percent from 1999 to last year, topping US$1,000 for the first time last year, government statistics show.

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