UPDATE 1-Gap to enter South America, eyes more stores abroad

* To open stores in Panama, Colombia next yr* To bring Old Navy stores, e-commerce site to Japan next yr* Plans to expand store base in ChinaOct 12 (Reuters) - Gap Inc will open its first stores in South America this month as the biggest clothes retailer in the United States looks to expand its international footprint.The company will open a store in Chile’s capital Santiago this month and another in the city of Concepcion in November, Gap said in a statement. It will also open Gap and Banana Republic stores in Panama and Colombia next year.Stores in these countries will sell products under the Gap, GapKids, babyGap and Banana Republic brands.“These brands and their aesthetics are a good match for our target customers in Chile, Panama, and Colombia,” Stefan Laban, managing director of strategic alliances for Gap, told Reuters in an email.“We have no plans to bring Old Navy to the region at this time, but…we’ll evaluate future opportunities as we go forward and see how things progress,” he added.Last year, the company started selling its products in Chile, Panama and Colombia through its international online store.Gap is eyeing overseas and online markets as it has struggled to grow its domestic business. The company has expanded its franchise store base across almost 30 countries over the past five years.“While most of our business is currently in the United States, we are focused on capitalizing on the $1.4 trillion apparel market and the significant opportunity ahead,” Laban said.The company also plans to continue to expand in China and introduce Old Navy stores in Japan, as well as set up dedicated e-commerce site for the country next year, he added.Gap plans to open franchise outlets in about 10 new countries in its current fiscal year and expects to double its franchise stores to 400 by fiscal year 2014.