First Union Corp. said it has applied to open a representative office in Bombay, India, underscoring a growing interest among U.S. banks in the Indian market.

Andrew Oleksiw, senior vice president in First Union's international division, said the Charlotte-based superregional hopes to use its Bombay representative office to develop trade-related banking, correspondent operations, and processing services.

"All Asian markets are becoming increasingly important," Mr. Oleksiw observed.

First Union sees significant opportunities for processing trade-related transactions among India, other Asian countries, Europe, and the United States, Mr. Oleksiw added.

The company has been gradually expanding overseas. In the last few years, it has opened offices in South Africa, started a joint venture with Hongkong Chinese Bank Ltd., and created a branch at the Los Angeles headquarters of Indonesia's Lippobank to handle trade finance.

Mr. Oleksiw said First Union is also thinking of expanding its operations in the Middle East through London.

First Union, the sixth-largest U.S. bank company, with $132 billion of assets, is one of several regional banks to venture into India as that country deregulates its financial markets. Charlotte-based NationsBank Corp. said it too has applied to open a representative office in Bombay.

And Bank of Boston Corp. last month opened its Bombay office, which does trade finance, rupee funding, foreign currency loans, and foreign exchange for multinational corporations.

"India is one of the emerging giants of Asia and has made significant progress over the past five years in deregulating its economy," said Charles Gifford, Bank of Boston chairman and chief executive. The United States "is India's No. 1 trading partner in both exports and imports."

Bank of Boston said it hopes to upgrade its Bombay representative office to branch status in six to nine months.

First Union will be the fifth U.S. bank to open an office in India. Citicorp and BankAmerica Corp. each has branches in Madras, Bombay, New Delhi, and Calcutta.

And J.P. Morgan & Co. set up a joint securities market venture two years ago with the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India Ltd.

Citicorp, BankAmerica, and Morgan are all involved in the Indian securities market and wholesale banking activities.

Banking sources said two other U.S. banks, Bank of New York Co. and CoreStates Financial Corp., Philadelphia, are also seeking to develop business in India. CoreStates recently opened an office in Dubai, a Persian Gulf city in the United Arab Emirates which relies heavily on business with India.

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