This morning (9 April) sees the start of one of the most anticipated dates on the retail calendar – and just-food will be there bringing you coverage live from the event.

The great and good of the retail world have descended on the Spanish city of Barcelona for the World Retail Congress 2008, where the leading lights of the sector will discuss the key issues affecting the sector for the next three days.

The emergence of organised retail in emerging markets, the rise of private label, the growing importance of the environment and sustainability among retailers – all these issues and more will be discussed at the conference.

José Luis Duran, CEO of Carrefour, the world’s second largest food retailer, will be among panelists kicking off the event, in a discussion that will focus on an issue central to the minds of all in the sector – how to thrive in this period of global economic uncertainty.

Food manufacturers will also get a chance to air their views and later this afternoon will see convenience food group Greencore, among others, speak on the growth of private label – and which markets are embracing the concept quickest.

Often a fresh pair of eyes can give new insights on any business and on any sector. Metro Group, the German-based retail giant, is certainly looking to benefit from such a viewpoint, with recently-appointed CEO Dr Eckhard Cordes – a car industry veteran – currently revamping the business after taking the hot seat in September. Later today, Dr Cordes will speak on the qualities he believes a retail business needs to succeed in a globalizing industry.

Multinational retailers continue to jostle over gaining a foothold in emerging markets. Just last week, just-food carried stories on the ambitions – or otherwise – of Tesco and Marks & Spencer in markets like India and Russia. Gordon Campbell, CEO of one of the retail world’s more global businesses, Spar International, will on Thursday outline where he believes the most exciting growth opportunities are.

Nevertheless, home-grown retailers are not just sitting on their hands; Rajan Bharti Mittal, MD of India’s Bharti Enterprises, and Wu Jiangzhong, chairman of Wumart Stores, will show how local knowledge could give their companies an edge.

Wal-Mart, as you’d expect, will also present at the conference. Just days after it emerged that the US retail giant plans to encourage its suppliers to “go green”, James Stanaway, an executive at the heart of Wal-Mart’s global supply chain, will gives his views on how retailers and suppliers can work together on environmental and ethical initiatives.

It’s clear that there is plenty for those of us in Barcelona to chew over. Be sure to keep checking just-food for the latest news and views from the event.