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This central Asian country could be a bright spot for retailers

Forget what you learned about Kazakhstan from Borat.

The Central Asian country once lampooned by Sacha Baron Cohen's bumbling TV journalist character, offers great potential for international retailers, according to research from management consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

Kazakhstan ranked as the fourth best developing country for retail investments, scoring 56.5 out of 100 on A.T. Kearney's 2016 Global Retail Development Index, after Malaysia which placed third on the index scoring 59.6.

China topped the retail index, with a score of 72.6, followed closely by India at 71.

The index measured countries based on four variables: Country and business risk, market attractiveness, market saturation and time pressure timeframe, which measures how rapidly the retail sector is advancing and thus the pressure for retailers to enter the market and capture the growth opportunity.

The A.T. Kearney study did not just consider markets that are the most attractive currently, but also countries with future potential.

"Kazakhstan's future growth will be rapid, and it's not as developed as other retail markets so that's the attractiveness for international retailers," said Chua Soon Ghee, partner and head of Southeast Asia at A.T. Kearney in a CNBC interview.

Big international retailers have already started honing in on the country with its population of 18 million, the consultancy firm reported.

French supermarket chain Carrefour opened its first Kazakhstan store earlier in February and French home improvement chain Leroy Merlin has already opened three stores, according to the report.

Grocers at the Zelgony Bazaar, Almaty City in Kazakhstan.
Anthony Plummer | Getty Images
Grocers at the Zelgony Bazaar, Almaty City in Kazakhstan.

Fast food giant McDonalds is also betting on Kazakhstan, having opened its first restaurant in the capital city Astana in March, while KFC has been operating in the country since 2007.

Kazakhstan is one of the largest oil producers in central Asia after Russia, but "with oil prices being low, the retail sector is seen as a potential source of growth for the economy," said Chua, who added that "the government recognizes this and has created a special office to attract foreign investors and international brands to the country."

The opportunities are there but the challenge lies in "assuring investors that the country has enough scale to provide long-term business opportunities," the report said.

But investors are also not entirely convinced, as seen from declines in the country's foreign direct investments. Foreign direct investments in first-quarter of 2016 were $3,384.7 million, down 27.2 percent from the same period in 2015, according to the National Bank of Kazakstan statistics.

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