Indian telecommunications giant Bharti Enterprises has said that it is considering entering India’s food retail sector amid rumours of a potential partnership between international retail giants Wal-Mart and Tesco.

According to a report in the Business Standard newspaper, Bharti chairman Sunil Mittal confirmed that the company was “in talks” with top retailers but cautioned that it would be months before a deal could be finalised.

Foreign retailers have lusted after the emerging Indian market, but have been prevented from entering because Indian laws prevent direct foreign investment in retail outlets. Consequently, there are no Tesco or Wal-Mart stores in India. However, under pressure from the European Union and the US, there have been some signs that India may relax these restrictions.

Wal-Mart spokesperson Bill Wertz told just-food: “We have expressed our interest in the market in India and our hope that restrictions on foreign investment will be relaxed.” However, he would not confirm that Wal-Mart was in talks with Bharti, saying: “We would not, as a matter of policy, discuss the details of specific negotiations.”

Tesco, whose name was linked with the move earlier this week, has a working relationship with Bharti who supply Tesco stores with fresh produce. 

“Bharti has an existing interest in the horticulture arena and is exploring the opportunity in food retail,” said a company spokesman yesterday (20 March) in a statement. “For now, we are evaluating options. This is at an early stage and it would be premature to comment on any speculation.”

When approached by just-food yesterday, Tesco declined to comment.