By  on April 3, 2007

BARCELONA — Emerging markets are transforming the landscape of the retail industry, as more players eye expansion in the fast-growing economies of China, India and Russia, said executives at the World Retail Congress here last week.

"This is the best time ever to be in the retail industry," said Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive officer of Britain's Tesco. "There are more opportunities than ever."

Several retailers said they wanted to bridge into rising markets, including Carrefour ceo Jose Luis Duran, who repeated that the French hypermarket operator was in talks with potential partners to open in India and it was going to enter Russia, too.

Duran said those markets would hold great potential. "We see a huge opportunity to grow internationally, whether in Poland, Brazil or China," he said.

Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and ceo of Federated Department Stores, also said he was in the early stages of investigating the "global expansion" of the Macy's and Bloomingdale's banners.

"It would have to be a meaningful opportunity," stressed Lundgren, who added it was only a matter of time before a major U.S. retailer became bullish about overseas expansion.

Saks Fifth Avenue and Harvey Nichols already have opened stores in the Middle East, and this month France's Galeries Lafayette said it would kick-start its own international expansion strategy with a store to open in Dubai. Saks, which operates its overseas stores with a franchise partner, also is planning to launch a store in Shanghai, and Harvey Nichols has one in Hong Kong.

Delegates at the conference prominently mentioned the importance of finding the right formula to crack into markets in Asia, and they bemoaned regulations that created red tape barriers to business.

Pascal Lamy, director of the World Trade Organization, spoke via video link to warn of the ramifications of a failure in the current Doha round of global free trade talks, which are struggling with agricultural subsidies and tariffs.

"Globalization has formidable advantages," said Lamy, as he outlined the political dangers of disagreement on the round, which, he said, would require great political will from the United States and the European Union if an agreement was to come by yearend.

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