Continuing its international growth strategy, Gap Inc today (12 October) said it is expanding in Latin America, with its first stores in South America due to open in Chile this month and Gap and Banana Republic stores planned for Panama and Colombia in 2012.

"Taking our brands to another continent reflects the success and flexibility of our franchise model, which allows us to quickly expand our reach to customers around the world," says Stephen Sunnucks, Gap Inc's international president.

"We believe substantial opportunity exists in Latin America and our first stores in Chile, Panama and Colombia will allow us to establish a foundation for further growth in this region."

Gap first made its products available to consumers in Chile, Panama and Colombia last year through its international online shipping provider.

Distribution in Colombia and Panama will be handled by a new agreement signed with Superior Retail Inc, while the Gap stores in Chile will open under the existing franchise agreement with Komax.

"With a nearly $6bn apparel and footwear market, a retail sector that makes up 9.4% of the country's GDP, and a proven customer base interested in American style and brands, Chile represents a natural extension for our brands," explained Stefan Laban, managing director of strategic alliances for Gap Inc.

The San Francisco based retailer is focused on growing its share of the $1.4 trillion global apparel market. Over the last five years, it has grown its franchise store base to about 200, expanded to 29 countries throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Australia and Africa and currently has franchise agreements in place to bring its brands to 33 countries on 6 continents.

In fiscal year 2011 alone, Gap Inc plans to open franchise locations in about 10 new countries and expects to double its franchise stores to 400 by fiscal year 2014.