(Reuters) - An Indian wholesale joint venture between Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) and New Delhi-based Bharti Enterprises plans to add between three and five stores in India by the end of the year, a spokeswoman for the joint venture said.
Wal-Mart operates 17 wholesale stores under the “Best Price” brand in partnership with Bharti Enterprises, a conglomerate whose holdings include Bharti Airtel Ltd (BRTI.NS), India’s top mobile telecoms operator.
Foreign ownership regulations in India do not allow global hypermarket and supermarket chains such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour SA (CARR.PA) to open shops in the country’s $450 billion-plus retail market.
Foreign players are, however, allowed to operate wholesale stores in partnership with local companies.
The Bharti joint venture puts Wal-Mart in a strong position to set up retail outlets when the law changes as Bharti owns 186 “Easyday” stores across India and a distribution joint venture with Singapore-based food company Del Monte Pacific Ltd DMPL.SI.
In December last year, the government backtracked on its decision to allow foreign multi-brand retail chains to set up majority owned local operations after a huge political backlash.
The joint venture is optimistic that the government will eventually allow foreign multi-brand retailers to enter the Indian market, the spokeswoman said at an event in the southern city of Bangalore.
Wal-Mart also plans to ramp up the headcount at @WalmartLabs in Bangalore to about 200 by the end of 2012 from 125 now, said Jermey King, chief technical officer of global e-commerce at Walmart.com.
@WalmartLabs, which manages Wal-Mart websites, is working to help Wal-Mart capture more online sales from smartphones and social networking.
Editing by Ted Kerr and Rodney Joyce