Wal-Mart and Carrefour, the world's two biggest retailers, saw their sales in China jump by a third and a fifth respectively last year according to new government data.

Wal-Mart's Chinese sales rose by 31 per cent to 7.6 billion yuan, with the number of stores rising 30 per cent to 43, the Commerce Ministry said.

The Ministry added that Carrefour, China's largest foreign retailer, posted sales of 16.24 billion yuan last year, an increase of 20.9 per cent over 2003. The number of Carrefour stores grew to 62 from 41.

Germany's Metro AG, the world's fourth-largest retailer, saw sales in China grow 13.2 per cent to 6.36 billion yuan, while the number of its stores rose to 23 from 18.

Its investment in China reached 350 million euros in 2004. Metro plans to add 40 more stores in the next few years, mostly in smaller cities.

Foreign retailers have been encouraged by the lifting of geographical restrictions as part of China's accession as a member of the World Trade Organisation.

Since December overseas companies are allowed to own 100 per cent of their Chinese operations and set up anywhere in the country.