TORONTO -- In an effort to allay the fears of Canadian suppliers of apparel and other products, Wal-Mart Canada Inc. has introduced a "Buy Canada" program here similar to its "Buy U.S.A." strategy at home.

"We will increase the amount of made-in-Canada products in our stores," said Edward Gould, acting director of communications for Wal-Mart Canada, which launched its Canadian invasion in January by buying 122 Woolco discount stores. "Our goal is to take our percentage of made-in-Canada from 40 percent in Woolco days to 50 percent."

Gould said Wal-Mart will soon announce a block of vendor partner agreements with clothing suppliers.

So far, Wal-Mart has announced agreements with five accessories companies. They include four Montreal-based companies: Reliable Hosiery Inc. for pantyhose and tights, $1.4 million (C$2 million); Midway Industries Ltd. for women's felt hats, $360,000 (C$500,000); Doris Hosiery Mills Ltd. for pantyhose, $1.8 million (C$2.5 million), and Lamour Industries for sport socks, for an undisclosed amount. R & B Gems Manufacturing Inc. of Concorde, Ontario, which manufactures gold jewelry, also signed a deal for an unspecified amount.

Retail consultant Len Kubas said the 'Buy Canada' program illustrates how Wal-Mart has been "bending over backwards trying to be a good Canadian corporate citizen."

Canadians are wary of American companies draining profits and jobs, he said, and suppliers fear being bypassed.

Since setting up shop in Canada, Wal-Mart has trumpeted the fact that it has expanded Woolco's employee base by about 2,500, to 18,500.

Under an agreement with Investment Canada, which approved the Woolco acquisition, Wal-Mart must identify made-in-Canada goods in its stores, plug Canadian artists in its advertisements and provide Canadian suppliers with "a full and fair opportunity" to do business with Wal-Mart Canada.

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