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UPDATE 1-IKEA signs franchise agreement with Falabella for Peru, Chile and Colombia

Colombia@ (Adds quotes and details)

STOCKHOLM, May 17 (Reuters) - IKEA, the world's biggest furniture retailer, plans to open its first stores in South America after signing a franchise agreement with Chilean retailer Falabella, the two companies said on Thursday.

IKEA, whose founder Ingvar Kamprad died in January at the age of 91, operates through a franchise system. Inter IKEA is the brand owner and franchisor. IKEA Group is the biggest franchise owner with 363 stores in 29 markets, out of a total of 418 stores in 49 markets.

Inter IKEA said in a news release the aim was to open at least nine stores in Chile, Colombia and Peru over a period of 10 years, along with online sales channels for the three countries. The first store is expected to open in the city of Santiago at the end of 2020, with Lima and Bogota to follow.

"We will bring to the three countries the full experience of IKEA, with stores and online sales such as those already existing in Europe, the United States and Asia," Sandro Solari, CEO of Falabella, said in the news release.

"IKEA will complement the current offer of products and services of our home improvement subsidiary Sodimac."

Inter IKEA also said it had granted the Ikano Group exclusive rights to explore expansion opportunities in Mexico. (Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Andrew Roche)