E-Trade Financial (Nasdaq: ETFC) announced the launch of a global trading platform on Tuesday to provide its retail investors with online access to foreign markets for the first time.

Through the pilot program, 1,000 users this week will have the ability to buy, hold and sell stocks in Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan and Britain. The firm said it may one day expand its operations into 42 international markets in the future.

Demand for international investing continues to rise dramatically in the United States, said R. Jarrett Lilien, President and Chief Operating Officer of E-Trade. Retail investors see international investments as a key component of overall portfolio diversification and, want the added benefit of direct share ownership.

Last year US investment in international mutual funds was greater than it was in US-based mutual funds, Lilien explained, suggesting that the acceptance of investing outside the US is a real option.

Previously, investors who wanted buy foreign shares that were not listed as American Depository Receipts (ADR's) had to deal directly with brokers. The new system promises a fully online experience, however.

The global trading platform will be made widely available to by the second quarter of 2007. Foreign trades will start off at $20 per trade.

Shares of E-Trade rose 0.50 percent, or 12 cents to $24.32 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market.