India opens door to foreign supermarket chains

Thu Nov 24, 2011 4:20pm EST
 
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By Manoj Kumar

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India threw open its $450 billion retail market to global supermarket giants on Thursday, approving its biggest reform in years that may boost sorely needed investment in Asia's third-largest economy.

The world's largest retail group, Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N: Quote), and its rivals see India's retail sector as one of the last frontier markets, where a burgeoning middle-class still shops at local, family-owned merchants.

Allowing foreign retailers to take stakes of up to 51 percent in supermarkets would attract much needed capital from abroad and ultimately help unclog supply bottlenecks that have kept inflation stubbornly close to a double-digit clip.

Wal-Mart hailed the decision, but said it would take a close look at the fine print to see what the decision entails for its ability to do business in India.

"We believe this is an important first step," said Scott Price, president and chief executive of Walmart Asia in a statement.

Raj Jain, who heads Wal-Mart India, told CNBC TV18 the decision will "redefine the way consumers shop in India, but more importantly, the way supply chains in India run."

Under fire for a slow pace of reform, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's embattled government appears to be slowly shaking off a string of corruption scandals to focus on policy changes long desired by investors.

"This is a very bold move and the economic reforms process is back on track." Rajan Mittal, vice chairman of India's Bharti Enterprises, which is Wal-Mart's partner in that market, told reporters.   Continued...