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Wal-Mart CEO to meet with Indian PM
Lee Scott's meeting with leader may signal "bona fide" interest in entering India.
July 19, 2005: 4:38 PM EDT
By Parija Bhatnagar, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Wal-Mart's CEO Lee Scott is expected to meet with Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh Tuesday, a move that some industry watchers say clearly underlines the retailer's growing commitment to enter the subcontinent sooner than later.

According to Wal-Mart (Research) spokesman William Wertz, Scott will have an "informal" meeting later on Tuesday with Singh, who is on a three-day official visit to Washington.

Wertz declined to comment on whether the meeting was designed specifically for Scott and Singh to talk about a time-table for Wal-Mart's entry into India.

"It will be a brief meeting. They could talk about purchases of goods from India among things," Wertz said.

However, some retail observers were already reading between the lines.

"Clearly this meeting signals a bona fide interest on Wal-Mart's part in the Indian market," said Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting group Customer Growth Partners. "India is a huge market and its fast-growing consumer sector is a precise fit for Wal-Mart's overall strategy."

Added Johnson, "Secondly, I think this meeting could possibly indicate that there's a solid chance that things could come to fruition in the relative near-term. If there wasn't a serious level of mutual interest, I doubt Scott would be in D.C. for this meeting."

Wal-Mart in recent months has upped the ante in its campaign to woo the Indian government and Indian consumers. Retail analysts say Wal-Mart needs to look for new international markets to fuel growth, especially as its U.S. market becomes increasingly saturated.

Last month, Wal-Mart sent a high-level delegation to India led by John Menzer, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's international operations. Menzer's visit also marked the first Wal-Mart executive visit to the country.

Speaking with analysts last month, Menzer said India represented a $250 billion retail market and a "huge organic growth opportunity for Wal-Mart."

At the same time, Menzer acknowledged that doing business in India has been a challenge for global companies, primarily because of regulatory hurdles.

But what's fueling Wal-Mart recent escalating interest in India may be what Menzer said were indications from the Indian government that the country was considering opening up.

Said Johnson, "India has been caught in a 1950s mentality with its regulatory rules. I think they've realized that the Indian market will be left behind if they don't become less restrictive the way China has."

Wendy Liebmann, president and founder of retail consultancy WSL Strategic Retail, said she thinks that Scott's meeting with Singh shows that Wal-Mart is moving step-by-step and cementing relationships first with the Indian government before it launches any major plan of entry.

Said Liebmann, "It's hard to tell what the time-table is for Wal-Mart but indeed India is an opportunity."  Top of page


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