Marks & Spencer has ended weeks of speculation over its plans to enter India with an announcement that it has sealed a joint venture agreement with local retailer Reliance Retail.

The two sides had been locked in talks but the UK retailer today (18 April) unveiled a deal it hopes will establish M&S as a "major retail brand in India".

The new venture - Marks & Spencer Reliance India Pvt Ltd - plans to open 50 stores in Indian cities under the Marks & Spencer banner in the next five years.

The product line-up will include M&S men's, women's and children's clothing and homeware, many of which will be sourced from local suppliers. 

An M&S spokesperson said: "We will be selling clothing and homeware, including signature M&S brands like the Per Una, Autograph and Limited collections."

Marks & Spencer will take a 51% stake in the newly-formed company. Reliance Retail will hold the remaining 49%.

The two sides will initially invest GBP29m (US$57.9m) into the business and said they would provide more funding as it becomes necessary.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, including approval from the Indian government.

Planet Retail, Marks & Spencer's existing franchise partner in India, is expected to continue as a franchisee for the 14 existing franchise stores.

Today's announcement is part of Marks & Spencer's plans to grow its international business to 15-20% of group revenues within the next five years.

M&S chief executive Sir Stuart Rose described India as "a very exciting opportunity for Marks & Spencer and a market where there is the potential for M&S to become a major retail brand."

Mark Ashman has been named as chief executive officer of Marks & Spencer Reliance India Pvt Ltd.