US coffeehouse giant Starbucks has entered the final stage of discussions with a number of potential partners for the expansion of its Chinese operations.

Starbucks entered the Chinese market in 1999 with a joint venture in Beijing. Chris McKreth, general manager of the company’s Coffee Concepts subsidiary, believes the coffee market in both Hong Kong and China is growing rapidly however, and the chain is planning to open its first outlet in the country’s richest province, Guangdong.

The most probable partner to emerge from the negotiations is Maxim’s Caterer, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Dairy Farm International Holdings who already runs a joint venture with Starbucks in Hong Kong.