British minister looks to Indian retail sector reform

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India's massive retail sector, which is largely shut to foreign firms, will open up because of the demands of the country's consumers, British Business Secretary Vince Cable said Tuesday.

Global retail giants such as Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Tesco are desperate to tap into India's booming economy, which has created new middle-class wealth in a nation of nearly 1.2 billion people.

"Indians are becoming aware for their own reasons of the advantages of global retailers," Cable told reporters in New Delhi.

"Indians want it and see the benefit in it. The customer interest is very real. It is not going to happen immediately but I sense a strong dynamic."

Cable, who was in India to drum up trade following Prime Minister David Cameron's visit in July,

said the British government wanted to help firms build long-term relationships with India.

"It was inconceivable for foreign companies to be welcomed here a few decades ago, but... it has been opening up," he said. "It is a steady process."

French supermarket giant Carrefour opened its first wholesale store in India three weeks ago, but like other multi-brand supermarket retailers it is not allowed to sell direct to consumers.

Only single-brand foreign outlets by firms such as Reebok or Marks & Spencer are allowed to operate.

Wal-Mart -- the world's second-largest retailer -- has already opened two wholesale stores and plans to open 10 more within four years.

The arrival of foreign companies into the Indian retail sector is a sensitive domestic issue, as millions of small shopkeepers fear being driven out of business by multinationals.

© 2011 AFP

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