By and  on March 13, 2006

NEW YORK — With its growing middle class, India is high on Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s to-do list for international expansion.

The Bentonville, Ark., retailer already operates an 80-plus-person sourcing office in Bangalore, one of India's largest cities. The company will import more than $600 million worth of goods directly from Indian factories this year, up from $400 million in 2005, said Wal-Mart International spokeswoman Beth Keck. That number does not include goods produced in India by Wal-Mart's domestic suppliers, which pushed the amount of goods sourced from the country to over $1 billion last year, according to several published reports.

Last year, Wal-Mart's chief executive officer H. Lee Scott said he'd like to see retail operations in India, Russia and several Eastern European countries. John Menzer, formerly ceo of Wal-Mart International and now vice chairman in charge of Wal-Mart U.S., visited New Delhi last year to meet with Indian officials.

Speaking at a Citigroup conference early last month, Menzer has India on his mind. He mentioned the country at the top of his speech, saying Wal-Mart "would consider opportunities if India changes its rules governing direct foreign investment." He added that Wal-Mart was ahead of many of its corporate peers in "developing that next large, long-term platform for growth, and that's international" expansion.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer by revenues, is hoping to leverage its buying clout into permission to open stores in India. In 2005, it filed an application to open a Bangalore office devoted to business development. If that request is approved, an executive from the company's headquarters would move to Bangalore.

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