Gap, the US casual-apparel retailer, unveiled plans Thursday to nearly triple the number of its stores in China by the end of its 2012 business year as it looks outside of North America to grow sales. Gap Inc., whose portfolio of brands includes Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy, outlined a strategy to increase total sales to counter lackluster demand in North America. Gap said in a statement it would expand from roughly 15 stores in China at the end of this year to about 45 by the end of fiscal 2012, in late January 2013. The San Francisco-based company opened its first stores in the world\'s second-largest economy last year. The first Gap flagship store in Hong Kong is set to open in a matter of weeks, the company noted. Gap also said it would open its first Old Navy store, its lower-priced brand, outside of North America in Japan within the next 18 months. The company\'s first Banana Republic flagship in Paris is slated to open later this year. The company reaffirmed its target of increasing sales growth outside of North America and online by about 30 percent by the end of its 2013 fiscal year. \"The combination of our global strategy and formidable growth platform puts us in a strong position to expand our reach into the top 10 apparel markets worldwide,\" said Glenn Murphy, Gap chairman and chief executive, in the statement. \"In North America, we\'re taking a number of steps to improve sales in the near term, and I\'m confident that with a strong management team in place, we\'re well positioned for sustained growth across the business.\" Gap has about 3,100 company-operated stores and about 200 franchise stores in 36 countries and online orders shipped to over 90 countries. Retail sales outside North America increased 16 percent in the first half of the year, while revenue from e-commerce business increased 19 percent across its entire portfolio, the company said. A week ago Gap reported September net sales were flat compared with last year.