updated 2/12/2007 1:59:17 PM ET 2007-02-12T18:59:17

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is interested in moving into Russia after strong growth in that giant country's retail spending, the world's largest retailer said Monday.

Wal-Mart's international division is smaller but is growing faster than the company's flagship U.S. business. Russia would mark another move into large but underdeveloped markets like Latin America and China, where it is already established, and India, where Wal-Mart plans to open stores with a local partner company.

Angela Hofmann, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart International, said Wal-Mart has been watching the Russian retail market for several years and likes what it sees.

"We've been watching impressive growth and it has piqued our interest," Hofmann said. "We are definitely interested in the Russian market."

But Hofmann said it was too early for any specific plans on how or where Wal-Mart might move into Russia or what Russian company it might partner with.

In the past, Wal-Mart has moved into new countries by teaming up with a local company, either through an acquisition or some kind of partnership. That way it can build on existing stores and the partner's experience with consumer demand in a new market.

Hofmann confirmed that a Wal-Mart executive in Russia last week was accurately quoted by Russian media as voicing interest in that market.

"So far, we are currently studying the market, but the decision on how to enter it has not yet been made," Wal-Mart vice president Mike Bratcher told a Moscow conference Thursday, the English-language Moscow Times reported.

The Moscow Times said Russia's food retail market accounts for less than 2 percent of gross domestic product but has seen annual growth of more than 25 percent since 2001.

Wal-Mart's international business accounted for about 22 percent of the company's total sales in the first nine months of last year.

That share is growing faster than the large U.S. business. International sales in the first nine months last year rose 30 percent from a year earlier, compared with 8 percent for Wal-Mart U.S. stores.

Wal-Mart pulled out of two wealthy, developed countries last year — Germany and South Korea — after racking up losses there. It remains active in Britain and Japan.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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