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KARRATHA, Australia (AP) — For nearly three decades, Chinese peasants have left their villages for crowded dormitories and sweaty assembly lines, churning out goods for world markets. Now, China is turning the tables.

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Robert Yu, president of Chinese car maker ZhongXing Automobile Auto, presents models in Tijuana, Mexico.

Here in the Australian Outback, Shane Padley toils in the scorching heat, 2,000 miles from his home, to build an extension to a liquefied natural gas plant that feeds China’s ravenous hunger for energy.

At night, the 34-year-old carpenter sleeps in a tin dwelling known as a “donga,” the size of a shipping container and divided into four rooms, each barely big enough for a bed. There are few other places for Padley to live in this boomtown.

Duct-taped to the wall is a snapshot of the blonde girlfriend he left behind and worries he may lose. But, he says, “I can make nearly double what I’d be making back home in the Sydney area.”

The reason: China.

For years, China’s booming economy touched daily life in the West most visibly through the “made-in-China” label on everything from clothes to computers. But now, economic growth is giving rise to something more that can’t be measured just by widgets and gadgets — a shift in China’s balance of power with the rest of the world.

China’s reach now extends from the Australian desert through the Sahara to the Amazonian jungle — and it’s those regions supplying goods for China, not just the other way around. China has stepped up its political and diplomatic presence, most notably in Africa, where it is funneling billions of dollars in aid. And it is increasingly shaping the lifestyle of people around the world, as the United States did before it, right down to the Mandarin-language courses being taught in schools from Argentina to Virginia.

China, like the United States, is also learning that global power cuts both ways. The backlash over tainted toothpaste and toxic pet food has been severe, as has the criticism over China’s support for regimes such as Sudan’s.

To understand why China’s influence is increasingly pushing past its borders, just do the math.

When 1.3 billion people want something, the world feels it. And when those people in ever increasing numbers are joining a swelling middle class eager for a richer lifestyle, the world feels it even more.If China’s growth continues, its consumer market will be the world’s second largest by 2015. The Chinese already eat 32 percent of the world’s rice, build with 47 percent of its cement and smoke one out of every three cigarettes.

China’s desire for expensive hardwood to turn into top-quality floorboards for its luxury skyscrapers has penetrated deep into the Amazon jungle. For example, in the isolated community of Novo Progresso, or New Progress in Portuguese, one of the biggest sawmills was started by the mayor with financing from Chinese investors.

China accounts for 30 percent of the wood exported from logging operations in remote towns across Brazil’s rain forest, where trucks carry the finished product hundreds of miles along muddy roads to river ports, said Luiz Carlos Tremonte, who heads an influential wood industry association. Many Chinese purchasers now travel to Brazil to clinch deals, and are almost always accompanied at business meetings by friends or relatives of Chinese descent who live there.

“Ten years ago no one knew about China in Brazil; then the demand just exploded and they’re buying a lot,” Tremonte said. “This wood is great for floors, and they love it there.”

The Bovespa stock index in Brazil has climbed more than 300 percent since 2002, riding the China wave.

China is buying coal mining equipment from Poland and drilling for oil and gas in Ethiopia and Nigeria. It has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Zambia’s copper industry. It is the world’s biggest market for mobile phones, headed for 520 million handsets this year. The list goes on.

Along with looking to other countries for goods for its people, China is also going far and wide in search of markets for its products.

In war-torn Liberia, where electricity is hard to come by, Chinese-made Tiger generators keep the local economy humming. Costlier Western brands, favored by aid agencies and diplomats, are beyond the reach of small business owners such as Mohammed Kiawu, 30, who runs a phone stall in the capital, Monrovia.

A used Tiger generator costs around $50, he said over the steady beat of his generator. “But even $250 is not enough to buy a used American or European generator. They are not meant for people like myself.”

The Chinese generators are more prone to break down, Kiawu said. When the starter cable snapped on one, he replaced it with twine. But by making items for ordinary people, he predicted, China “will take control of the heart of the common people of Africa soon.”

China is having to make up for decades of economic stagnation after the communist takeover in 1949.

When Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping began dabbling in economic reforms in 1978, farmers were scraping by. By 2005, income had increased sixfold after adjusting for inflation to $400 a year for those in the countryside and $1,275 for urban Chinese, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

“The Chinese don’t want war — the Chinese just want to trade their way to power,” said David Zweig, a professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “In the past, if a state wanted to expand, it had to take territory. You don’t need to grab colonies any more. You just need to have competitive goods to trade.”

If China stays on the same economic track, it would become the world’s largest economy in 2027, surpassing the United States, according to projections by Goldman, Sachs & Co., a Wall Street investment bank. And unlike Japan, which rose in the 1980s only to fade again, China still has a huge pool of workers to tap and an emerging middle class that is just starting to reach critical mass. Many development economists believe China still has 20 years of fairly high growth ahead.

But the transition to a larger presence on the global stage comes with growing pains, for China and the rest of the world.

As Beijing plays an ever bigger role in the developing world, some Western countries fear it could undermine efforts to promote democracy. In its attempt to secure markets and win allies, China is stepping up development aid to Africa and Asia. Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged last year to double Chinese aid to Africa between 2006 and 2009, promising $3 billion in loans, $2 billion in export credits and a $5 billion fund to encourage Chinese investment in Africa. China has also promised Cambodia a $600 million aid package and agreed to loan $500 million to the Philippines for a rail project.

But China also extends aid to states such as Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Sudan whose human rights records have lost them the support of the West. Actress Mia Farrow has labeled next year’s Beijing Olympics — a point of pride for China — the “genocide Olympics” because of China’s support for Sudan, at a time when the West seeks to punish it for its military actions in Darfur. China buys two-thirds of Sudan’s oil output.

“In some ways, it will be integrating us into a new international order in which democracy as we’ve known it or the right to open organized political activity is no longer considered the norm,” said James Mann, author of “The China Fantasy,” a book about China and the West.

China is also facing some of the unease that powers before it have encountered. In Africa and Asia, some complain that massive China-funded infrastructure projects involve mostly Chinese workers and companies, rather than create jobs and wealth for the local population. And Moeletsi Mbeki, a political commentator and brother of South African President Thabo Mbeki, likens the trade of African resources for Chinese manufactured goods to former colonial arrangements.

“This equation is not sustainable,” Mbeki said at a recent meeting of the African Development Bank in Shanghai. “Africa needs to preserve its natural resources to use in the future for its own industrialization.”

The backlash is also coming on the consumer front, with Chinese goods earning a dubious reputation for quality. In the United States, there is a furor over the standard of Chinese imports. In Bolivia, vendors peel off or paint over any indication that their wares were “Hecho en China,” Spanish for “Made in China.”

A woman selling bicycles in El Alto, a poor city outside the capital, La Paz, insisted they were made in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan or even India. With some prodding, she acknowledged the truth. “They’re all Chinese,” she said, declining to give her name lest it hurt her business. “But if I say they’re Chinese, they don’t sell.”

Even those who benefit from China’s growth express some wariness. Aerospace giant Boeing expects China to be the largest market for commercial air travel outside the United States in the next 20 years, buying more than $100 billion worth of commercial aircraft, U.S. trade envoy Karan Bhatia said in a recent speech.

“Right now, we’re hiring every week,” noted Connie Kelliher, a union leader. “Things couldn’t be better.”

Yet Boeing workers remain wary of China’s ambitions to build its own planes. next year China plans to test-fly a locally made midsize jet seating 78 to 85 passengers. It has also announced plans to roll out a 150-seat plane by 2020.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Kelliher said. “You want the business and we want to get the airplane sales to them, but there’s the real concern of giving away so much technology that they start building their own.”

That’s what happened to Western and Japanese automakers, which made inroads in the Chinese market only to see their designs copied and technologies stolen. Already, China’s vehicle manufacturers are venturing overseas, exporting 325,000 units last year — mostly low-priced trucks and buses to Asia, Africa and Latin America.

“We’re taking a bigger piece of the pie,” said Yamilet Guevara, a sales manager for Cinascar Automotriz, which has opened 20 showrooms in Venezuela in the past 18 months, offering cars from six Chinese makers. “They ask by name now. It’s no longer just the Chinese car. It’s the Tiggo, the QQ.”

China’s biggest car company, Chery Automobile Co., just announced a deal with the Chrysler Group to jointly produce and export cars to Western Europe and the United States within 2-1/2 years.

Given the speed of China’s ascent, it’s perhaps not surprising that China itself is trying to calm some of the fears. Its slogan for the Beijing Olympics: “Peacefully Rising China.”

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Mexico’s Carlos Slim makes his billions
the old-fashioned way: monopolies 

By DAVID LUHNOW
August 4, 2007; 

Mexico City

Carlos Slim is Mexico’s Mr. Monopoly.

It’s hard to spend a day in Mexico and not put money in his pocket. The 67-year-old tycoon controls more than 200 companies — he says he’s “lost count” — in telecommunications, cigarettes, construction, mining, bicycles, soft-drinks, airlines, hotels, railways, banking and printing. In all, his companies account for more than a third of the total value of Mexico’s leading stock market index, while his fortune represents 7% of the country’s annual economic output. (At his height, John D. Rockefeller’s wealth was equal to 2.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.)

As one Mexico City eatery jokes on its menu: “This restaurant is the only place in Mexico not owned by Carlos Slim.”

[Carlos Slim]

Mr. Slim’s fortune has grown faster than any in the world during the past two years, rising by more than $20 billion to about $60 billion currently. While the market value of his stake in publicly traded companies could decline at any time, at the moment he is probably wealthier than Bill Gates, whom Forbes magazine estimated at $56 billion last March. This would mark the first time that a person from the developing world held the top spot since Forbes started tracking the wealthy outside the U.S. in the 1990s.

“It’s not a competition,” Mr. Slim said in a recent interview, fiddling with an unlit Cuban cigar in a second-story office decorated with 19th century Mexican landscape paintings. A relatively modest man who wears ties from his own stores, the mogul says he doesn’t feel any richer just because he is wealthier on paper.

How did a Mexican son of Lebanese immigrants rise to such heights? By putting together monopolies, much like John D. Rockefeller did when he developed a stranglehold on refining oil in the industrial era. In the post-industrial world, Mr. Slim has a stranglehold on Mexico’s telephones. His Teléfonos de México SAB and its cellphone affiliate Telcel have 92% of all fixed-lines and 73% of all cellphones. As Mr. Rockefeller did before him, Mr. Slim has accumulated so much power that he is considered untouchable in his native land, a force as great as the state itself.

The portly Mr. Slim is a study in contradiction. He says he likes competition in business, but blocks it at every turn. He loves talking about technology, but doesn’t use a computer and prefers pen and paper. He hosts everyone from Bill Clinton to author Gabriel García Márquez at his Mexico City mansion, but is provincial in many ways, doesn’t travel widely, and proudly says he owns no homes outside of Mexico. In a country of soccer fans, he likes baseball. He roots for the sport’s richest team, the New York Yankees.

INTERVIEW EXCERPTS
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“This isn’t a competition. Being a businessman isn’t about that kind of competition. It’s a competition for the marketplace.”

— Carlos Slim, in a discussion with The Wall Street Journal. Read the edited excerpts.

Admirers say the hard-charging Mr. Slim, an insomniac who stays up late reading history and has a fondness for reading about Ghengis Khan and his deceptive military strategies, embodies Mexico’s potential to become a Latin tiger. His thrift in both his businesses and personal life is a model of restraint in a region where flamboyant Latin American business tycoons build lavish corporate headquarters and fly to Africa on hunting jaunts.

To critics, however, Mr. Slim’s rise says a lot about Mexico’s deepest problems, including the gap between rich and poor. The latest U.N. rankings place Mexico at 103 out of 126 nations measured in terms of equality. During the past two years, Mr. Slim has made about $27 million a day, while a fifth of the country gets by on less than $2 a day.

“It’s like the U.S. and the robber barons in the 1890s. Only Slim is Rockefeller, Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan all rolled up into one person,” says David Martínez, a Mexican investor who lives in Manhattan.

Monopolies have long been a feature of Mexico’s economy. But in the past, politicians acted as a brake on big business to ensure that the business class didn’t threaten their power. But political control faded in the 1990s with the privatization of much of the economy and the slow death of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which held power for 71 years until 2000.

“It is surprising how big companies have captured the Mexican state. This is a risk to our democracy, and is suffocating our economy,” says Eduardo Perez Motta, the country’s antitrust chief.

As the face of the new elite, Mr. Slim presents an acute challenge for the country’s young president, Felipe Calderón. He must decide whether to try and rein in Mr. Slim despite the mogul’s standing as the country’s largest private employer and taxpayer. Congress routinely kills legislation that threatens his interests, and his firms account for a chunk of the nation’s advertising revenue, making the media reluctant to criticize him.

[World's Richest Man]

During the past few months, Mr. Calderón has looked to cut a backdoor deal with Mr. Slim. In a series of face-to face meetings — the details of which have surfaced for the first time — the president has tried to convince Mr. Slim to accept greater competition, according to people familiar with the talks. The government holds an important card: Mr. Slim can’t offer video on his network — a big potential market — without government approval.

But even some within Mr. Calderón’s camp privately say the closed-door talks play into Mr. Slim’s hands by letting him circumvent the country’s regulators, underscoring the weakness of Mexico’s democratic institutions. Unless Mr. Calderón extracts big concessions from the mogul, they say, he may become too powerful to control. For his part, Mr. Slim says that his companies are “in constant contact” with regulators, but played down the notion of a secret negotiation.

A talkative man who is generally avuncular but who can easily lose his temper, Mr. Slim rejects the monopolist label. “I like competition. We need more competition,” he says, sipping a Diet Coke. He stressed that many of his companies operate in competitive markets, and pointed out that Mexico accounts for only a third of sales at his cellphone company América Móvil SAB, which has clients from San Francisco to Sao Paolo.

Mr. Slim’s strategy has been consistent over his long career: Buy companies on the cheap, whip them into shape, and ruthlessly drive competitors out of business. After Mr. Slim got control of Telmex in 1990, he quickly cornered the market for copper cables used by Telmex for telephone wires. He bought one of the two main suppliers and made sure Telmex didn’t buy any cable from the other big supplier, eventually prompting the owners to sell the company to him.

His control of Mexico’s telephone system has slowed the nation’s development. While telephones have long been standard in any American home, only about 20% of Mexican homes have them. Only 4% of Mexicans have broadband access. Mexican consumers and businesses also pay above-average prices for telephone calls, according to the Organization for Cooperation and Economic Development.

Mr. Slim agrees that many industries in Mexico are dominated by big companies. But he sees no harm as long as they offer good service and prices. “If a beer in Mexico costs 1 peso and in the U.S. it costs 2 pesos, then I don’t see the problem,” he says.

Despite countless measures over the years that show his companies charge high prices, Mr. Slim steadfastly rejects that notion. During an interview, he orders an aide to fetch his own telephone bills. “See? We charge $14 per month for basic phone rental, cheaper than the U.S.,” he says, pulling up a seat next to the reporter. That may be so, but additional fees in Mexico make most phone bills more expensive than in the U.S. Mr. Slim’s total phone bill at his own house was a whopping $470 last month. “I have a lot of maids and my sons make calls,” he says.

Mr. Slim says his success comes from spotting opportunity early, something he learned in part from reading futurist writer Alvin Toffler, who wrote the best-seller “Future Shock” in the 1970s, and who sends the mogul manuscripts to review. Pulling a dog-eared copy of Mr. Toffler’s last book, “Revolutionary Wealth,” Mr. Slim leafs through it and shows off his comments in the margins. “Some of his numbers were out of date,” he mutters.

Mr. Toffler says he first met Mr. Slim on a trip to Mexico in 1993. Mr. Slim approached him after a speech, surrounded by his family and carrying one of Mr. Toffler’s books, heavily underlined. The two have been friends ever since. “If you didn’t know he was the richest guy in the world, you’d just think he was a likeable and intelligent guy,” says Mr. Toffler.

The fifth of six children, Mr. Slim was born wealthy. His father, Julian Slim, made his fortune on a general store in downtown Mexico City called “The Orient Star.” His father died when Mr. Slim was only 13.

THE FOUR D’S

Companies that dominate their industries often resort to the four D’s to defend their turf when facing competition for the first time.

Deny — When Mexico’s long-distance market opened to competition in 1997, Telmex at first denied access to its network, arguing that rivals didn’t have the legal authorization to operate in the country, say rivals. In recent years, Telmex has tried to block Internet calling service Skype’s entry into Mexico, arguing it needs a government concession to enter the market. Telmex says it follows legal procedure.  

Delay — Telmex dragged its feet on allowing access to its network, often not returning calls from executives of rival companies or not showing up at meetings, rivals say. When Mexico’s telephone regulator, Cofetel, tried to regulate Telmex in the following years, the company took it to court nearly every single time, tying up the regulator’s rulings for years.

Deteriorate — Rivals complain that Telmex hurt competitors’ service. One small rival, MCM Telecom, says Telmex would route all of its calls through one particular station to overload the calls and create busy signals. Telmex says any such move was inadvertent.

Dump — Mr. Slim’s companies can put the squeeze on rivals. Since his Mexican cellphone company, Telcel, has more than 70% of the market, it collects high interconnection fees for calls between networks roughly seven in every 10 times. Rivals, however, have to pay the fee most of the time, making it hard for them to undercut Telcel’s prices and gain market share.

Early on, Mr. Slim showed an aptitude for numbers that would help his career. He taught algebra at Mexico’s largest public university while finishing his thesis, titled “Applications of Linear Theory in Civil Engineering.” His love of numbers also drew him to baseball, a lifelong hobby. “In baseball…numbers talk,” he once wrote. Even today, he enjoys discussing baseball, telling a reporter that slugger Barry Bonds should be remembered more for his walk ratio than his home runs.

After college, Mr. Slim and some friends became stockbrokers in the country’s fledgling market. Trading by day and playing dominoes by night, the clique became known as “Los Casabolseros,” or “The Stock Market Boys.” Despite the success, friends say Mr. Slim, less of a party boy and more private than the rest, wanted to run companies rather than trade. “He never liked money as much as the rest of us. He just wanted to be a good businessman,” says Enrique Trigueros, one of the casabolseros.

Mr. Slim soon got his chance. After turning around a soft-drink company and a printing firm in the late 1960s and mid 1970s, he made his first big move in 1981, buying a big stake in Mexico’s second-biggest tobacco company, Cigatam, maker of Marlboro cigarettes in Mexico. The company generated the cash Mr. Slim needed to go on a buying spree.

A good time to buy came in 1982, a year that would shape Mr. Slim’s destiny. That year, the collapsing price of oil threw Mexico into a tailspin. When departing president José López Portillo nationalized Mexico’s banks, the traditional business elite feared the country was becoming socialist, and ran for the exits. Companies were selling for as little as 5% of their book value. Mr. Slim picked up dozens of leading firms for bargain-basement prices, a move that paid off when the economy recovered in the following years. He bought Mexico’s largest insurer, Seguros de México, for $44 million. Today, the company is worth at least $2.5 billion.

“Countries don’t go broke,” an unflappable Mr. Slim told friends at the time. Indeed, Mr. Slim always says his inspiration to invest during the downturn came from his father, who bought out his partner in their general store during the worst days of the 1910-1917 Mexican revolution — a bet that made his father a fortune when the fighting ended.

Mr. Slim still spots good values. From 2002 to 2004, he amassed a 13% stake in bankrupt carrier MCI, later selling it to Verizon Communications Corp. for $1.3 billion. “He has never overpaid for anything,” says Hector Aguilar Camín, a historian and friend. While the pair were on holiday in Venice, Mr. Slim once haggled with a store owner for several hours to get a $10 discount on a tie.

Despite his abilities, many here believe his biggest break was the rise to power in 1988 of Carlos Salinas, a Harvard-educated technocrat bent on modernizing the country. The two men had struck up a friendship in the mid-1980s, and Mr. Salinas spoke of Mr. Slim as the country’s brightest young businessman. Local wags dubbed the pair “Carlos and Charlies,” after a popular local restaurant chain.

Under Mr. Salinas, hundreds of state companies were sold, including Telmex in 1990. Mr. Slim, together with Southwestern Bell and France Telecom, won the bid over one of his closest friends, Roberto Hernandez, who got together with GTE Corp. Mr. Hernandez later suggested the auction was rigged, something both Mr. Slim and Mr. Salinas have long denied. Regardless of whether there was favoritism in the sale of Telmex, the privatization process created a new class of super-rich in Mexico. In 1991, the country had two billionaires on the Forbes list. By 1994, at the end of Mr. Salinas’s six-year term, there were 24. The richest of them all was Mr. Slim.

In retrospect, it is easy to see why Messrs. Slim and Hernandez considered Telmex a prize worth losing their friendship. Although countries like Brazil and the U.S. broke up state monopolies into a number of competing firms, Mexico sold its monopoly intact, barring competition during the first six years. And while countries like the U.S. initially barred local “baby bell” carriers from offering long-distance and cellular service in their same area, Telmex got to do all three at once, and across the entire country. Indeed, it won the only nationwide cellular-telephone concession, while rivals had to settle for concessions that were limited to certain regions. When competition was allowed in long distance, foreign carriers were limited to a minority stake in the fixed-line business. Mexico didn’t even bother to set up a telephone regulator until three years after the sale.

Dan Crawford was one of those who took on Mr. Slim and lost. In 1995, the California native became chief operating officer of Avantel, a long-distance company partly owned by MCI and the bank of Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Slim’s erstwhile friend. Avantel spent around $1 billion building a new network, but it soon ran into trouble trying to connect to Telmex’s network — something it needed to complete calls to and from Telmex clients. Telmex executives simply ignored phone calls or failed to turn up for meetings, Mr. Crawford recalls.

When Telmex did connect the calls nearly a year later, the price was so high that Avantel paid 70 cents of every dollar it made to Mr. Slim’s company, according to Mr. Crawford. When Avantel took Telmex to court for monopolistic practices, Telmex responded by asking a judge to issue an arrest warrant for Avantel’s top lawyer in Mexico, Luis Mancera, on trumped up charges, Mr. Crawford says. Mr. Slim confirms the story, but says a Telmex lawyer acted rashly, and that the judicial proceeding was dropped. Mr. Mancera declined to comment.

“Slim is very aggressive,” says Mr. Crawford, who recently retired from MCI. Avantel eventually defaulted on its debts in 2001, much of which were scooped up by Mr. Slim and later sold for a profit. Avantel was sold recently to another Mexican firm for $485 million — a fraction of what it invested in Mexico.

For his part, Mr. Slim says Avantel and others mistakenly focused on the long-distance market, which was in decline, rather than wireless, which was growing.

It hasn’t been much easier taking on Mr. Slim in the wireless market either. In 2004, Spain’s Telefónica SA began selling handsets at a loss here to build market share. But it soon realized that tens of thousands of phones were purchased but never used. According to a case currently at Mexico’s antitrust agency, Telefónica says that Telcel distributors bought the phones to keep them off the market, in some cases swapping the phone’s existing chip with their own and reselling the handset.

When asked about this practice, Mr. Slim says “It could be. That happens to all of us. If you sell something for $50 or $20 that costs $100, someone’s going to buy it.” His spokesman and son-in-law, Arturo Elías, says the distributors acted without Telcel’s knowledge.

Attempts to regulate Mr. Slim’s companies have largely failed over the years. Mexico’s telephone regulator, Cofetel, was so weak in the 1990s that Telmex’s rivals dubbed it “Cofetelmex.” When the regulator did try to act, Mr. Slim’s lawyers blocked it in the country’s Byzantine courts.

The Telmex chief also had friends in high places. Vicente Fox, Mexico’s first opposition president when he won in 2000, tapped a former Telmex employee, Pedro Cerisola, to be his minister of communications and transport. During his tenure, Mr. Cerisola rarely moved against Telmex, say executives from rival telephone companies. Mr. Cerisola declined to comment.

Using money from his telephone empire, Mr. Slim has expanded into Latin American markets as well as new industries in Mexico. His cellphone company América Móvil has 124 million customers and operates in more than a dozen Latin American nations. In Mexico, he has focused on industries that depend on government contracts. His new construction company, Ideal SAB, is currently bidding to run some of Mexico’s biggest highways. His new oil-services company recently built the country’s biggest oil platform.

Some of Mexico’s business leaders say in private that they feel Mr. Slim has grown too greedy. The death of his wife, Soumaya, from kidney disease in 1999 left him without an anchor, says Mr. Trigueros, Mr. Slim’s friend from his stockbroker days. “She was a special woman, the kind who keeps a guy in line. Nowadays, he only has business to think about,” he says.

Mr. Slim’s empire is so vast here now that doing business without him can be difficult. Two years ago, Hutchison Port Holdings and U.S. railroad Union Pacific teamed up to bid on a $6 billion port and railway in Baja California to compete with Long Beach port. But Mr. Slim felt the project had been arranged behind closed doors and was against the idea of the country’s biggest project going to foreigners. He made his feelings known to the Baja California governor and the project was stalled. Mr. Slim has since worked to put together a rival consortium, which includes Mexican rail company Grupo Mexico and U.S. railroad Burlington-Northern. He says his potential bid is a better option for the country because the railroad will run along Mexico’s north and help spur development. Union Pacific and Hutchison both declined to comment.

Mr. Slim has recently given more money to philanthropy, but he has often said his most important legacy is his family. In 2000, a few years after heart surgery, he put his sons and sons-in-law in charge of his businesses. He also started a group called “Fathers and Sons” that invites Latin American billionaires and their heirs for annual meetings, where they sip fine wines and attend seminars like “How to Run a Family Business.”

There is no obvious successor to the patriarch’s empire. That gives some Mexican officials hope that one day the state can regulate his companies. Says one high-ranking official: “When Slim dies, we can finally regulate his kids.”

Write to David Luhnow at david.luhnow@wsj.com

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It is always necessary to know who your competitors are … the Zambian Enterprise has some very serious ones when it comes to being the best destination for investment capital from around the world. 

There is limited cash flow around but unlimited competitors and so new aggressive means and ways have to be available for our Enterprise to increase its competitive advantage.  

The first thing in knowing what needs to be done is identifying those competitors, analyze their strengths and weaknesses then find a way to undercut them.

It is doggy world out there and if we have to be at the cutting edge of this competition, we have to diverse some serious strategic plans to help us achieve out objectives. 

Believe it or not our business unit at the Zambian Chronicle has identified some serious competitors; some in our own backyard while others are up north. Those in our backyard include, Mozambique whose real GDP has been growing at a rate 2% higher than ours.  

This is a serious pace especially that if you considered the fact that US and the Mexican economies were the same in terms of GDP a hundred years ago. However, the US economy was growing at a pace of 1% higher than the Mexican economy and when you factor in power of compounding, the US outpaced Mexico and the rest is history. 

Another serious competitor remains South Africa. To its merit, South Africa can’t be considered a third world nation and capital inflows continue to outpace those of the Zambian Enterprise.

The other nation in our backyard is Angola while Congo’s instability makes us a better destination despite its potential. Up north, Tunisia and Algeria are very serious contenders but for different reasons that can be copied and implemented to help us compete with them. So, here are some things we can do to increase our competitive advantage. 

Ø       Create a tax free zone; choose a province where there are less economic activities and target it as a tax free zone for the next 10 to 15 years. This could be Western, Eastern or Luapula Provinces for instance, just pick one or two. Malaysia did this at the turn of the century and today houses the world’s tallest building even before 911 happened.

Ø       Encourage remittances from nationals living abroad. One reason South Africa, Algeria and Tunisia are outpacing us is because remittances from their nationals living abroad were almost as high as FDI (foreign Direct Investment). In fact, the largest recipients of remittances last year were not the traditional South American countries, it was Sub-Saharan Africans. 

Ø       Lower taxes including VAT if necessary. Lower taxes encourage tax payers to declare more reasonable taxes and discourage tax evasion. This also helps broaden the tax base while those tax savings are easily turned into new investment ventures thereby encourage and or increasing productivity. 

Ø       Deliberate government investment into infra-structure development. One reason Zambia is more attractive is because of its political stability but its greatest disadvantage is lack of infra-structure. Government spending has a multiplier effect seven times larger than that of the private sector. 

Ø       Over 44% of our population lives in urban areas, this is a great asset when compared to Mozambique, Angola and Congo for instance. This is because it would be easier for the Zambian Enterprise to turn this human capital into a highly productive machine than our competitors. 

Our business unit at the Zambian Chronicle will continue to explore more ways as we research issues that will help our Zambian Franchise to be a shining star, because Zambia Is Greater Than Any Single One Of Us … thanks a trillion. 

Brainwave R Mumba, Sr.

CEO & President – Zambian Chronicle

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Bill Friday tries to answer that question for us … by print time of his article, Carlos was not yet considered the world’s richest man but now you know the rest is history … thanks a trillion.

You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask of that old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Slim.” – Jim Croce.

1902

A young man flees persecution in his home country and travels half way around the world to find a new home and a new way of life. How many times have we heard that one? But what if the young man was born in Lebanon? And what if the country he emigrated to wasn’t the U.S., but Mexico?Here begins the story of Carlos Slim.

Carlos Slim is the son of Julian Slim (Yusef Salim) Haddad, a Lebanese Christian (non-Muslim) who left his own country for a better (read: longer) life at the southern end of North America. Through hard work and shrewd investments – yes, Mexican investments – buying land in downtown Mexico City following the revolution of 1910, the elder Slim became a successful businessman.

And the son picked up right where his late father left off.By the age of 26, Carlos Slim had an accumulated wealth of $400,000. He had married the future mother of his six children. Armed only with a degree in civil engineering and a big pile of money (Mexico in 1936 money), he began buying things. Lots of things. Businesses. Skip ahead forty years.Carlos Slim is rich.

Sorry, I may have understated that a bit. Carlos Slim is RICH!. Ridiculously, excessively, non-stop, stinking, light your cigars with million dollar bills RICH! So rich, that his cumulative wealth is estimated somewhere between thirty billion (Forbes) to FIFTY BILLION DOLLARS (Reuters; Fortune). So rich, that in 2006, he saw his wealth increase $2.2 million per hour (Belfast Telegraph).

Although the majority of his money has come from the telecommunications industry, Slim’s holdings also include five insurance companies (valued at $1.5 billion), a Mexican retail chain (pretax annual profit, $500 million), a mining company, an auto parts manufacturing company, a bank, a tobacco company, oh, and another mining company. All told, Slim’s companies account for almost one-half of the value of the Mexican stock exchange.

And before you think Carlos Slim’s empire stops at the Mexican border, south-of-which 4 out of every 5 cell lines and 9 out of every 10 land lines are owned and operated by him, think again. Have you ever bought anything at Comp USA? The computer you’re reading this article on, maybe? You just added to the man’s not-so-slim portfolio. Designer purses? How about Saks Fifth Avenue where the slim pickins aren’t so slim? Cha-ching! He owns them both. In the time it took you to read this paragraph, Carlos Slim just made $18,000.

Now before you jump from your Comp USA computer chair and shout, “Bastardo Codicioso!” (that’s “Greedy Bastard!” en Español), hear what else this man, who one day soon will be the richest in the world, has done.

In 2006, from endowments to and through his foundations, Carlos Slim donated $1.8 billion to charitable cause including giving away 95,000 bicycles to children of poor families to ride to their schools, 70,000 pairs of eyeglasses, and scholarships to 150,000 university students.

Similar donations over the last ten years start to read like a box score. They include 66 million bikes and 10 million pairs of contact lenses.

He even donated thousands of laptop computers to students, thus providing them access to the Internet. As early as next week, Carlos Slim plans to announce a new plan to donate upwards of 10 billion more dollars over the next four years to help fund Mexican health and education programs.

Add to it the fact that Slim’s companies also employ 250,000 Mexicans.

So how come a large segment of his own people don’t trust him?

Remember the laptops? When the students accessed the Internet, whose ISP did they use?

Do you own a PC or a Mac? If you own a Mac, do you trust Bill Gates? The very fact that you can own a Mac allows you to rest a little easier even while knowing that Bill Gates is the richest man in the world. Do you like Coke? No? Well then, at least there’s Pepsi.

If you’re a Mexican citizen, Carlos Slim is Microsoft, Apple, Coke, Pepsi and GM all rolled into one. In spite of all of Slim’s charitable contributions, Mexico’s working class just doesn’t trust him.

In the last year, this distrust took the form of satire. A cartoon of Slim, depicted as a boxer lying flat on his back in the ring as he crushes a tiny opponent appeared in the Mexican newspaper La Reforma. In the drawing, telephone lines make up the ropes around the ring. Beneath the cartoon a caption reads, “Billion Dollar Baby”.

Around the same time, in a segment on the Mexican TV show, “La Verdad Sea Dicha” (“The Truth Be Told”), a mocking news anchor shoves a pie into the mouth of a papier maché effigy of Slim.

But this attitude is also found in the academic community, where many find the practice of making giant public donations a questionable cover for something else.

One professor, Denise Dresser of the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, points out, “In Mexico, the perception is that public deeds are done for personal gain.” In another interview Dresser adds that “a growing public consensus that Slim’s attempts to block competition are hurting the Mexican economy.” She goes on to say, “He wants to ward off those criticisms.”

Dresser is not alone.

George Grayson is an expert on the subject of Latin American politics. For the last 38 years he’s been a faculty member of The College of William and Mary. When interviewed by the L.A. Times on the subject of Mexico’s lack of economic competition, Grayson said, “It is still full of public and private monopolies and bottlenecks.”

In a country where the power of wealth is controlled by a relatively few tight-nit grupos, all of which together are known as “The 100 Families”, the largest monopoly by far is controlled by Carlos Slim.

Once more from Dresser. “Mexico has a dense, intricate web of connections between the government and the business class. This ends up creating a government that doesn’t defend the public interest… It is rather willing to help its friends, its allies and, in some cases, its business partners thrive at the expense of the Mexican people.”

So, what of the monopoly created by Carlos Slim? If Slim has done this much for his own people, whether some trust him or not, shouldn’t we rise from our Comp USA computer chairs and applaud?

Economists say that Mexico actually loses money due to the monopolies controlled by Slim and The 100 Families, causing Mexico’s per capita income to fall to less than $7,000, leaving the country in poverty.

Ask the 10 percent of the Mexican population that currently lives in the United States why they left home.

And why, by working for the decidedly low wages generally available to “illegals” in this country, remittances sent back to Mexico by these workers totaled a record $20 billion in 2005.

So what will it take to, once and for all, bring Mexico to a place where its own citizens will want to return? Slim himself defines his own role in the process.

“My new job,” says Carlos Slim, “is to focus on the development and employment of Latin America.”

If he means employ at a working wage commensurate with the rest of Norte America, he doesn’t say.

So what more will it take for Slim and, for that matter, the rest of the wealthiest of Mexico’s power brokers to satisfy the skepticism of the Mexican working class that distrusts him so much?

Denise Dresser calls it a wish list. One that, “every Mexican committed to his country would ask from Santa Claus.” And that is?

“The day that you (Slim) give 80 percent of your personal fortune to an unselfish cause is the day that I will become your champion.”

Oh. Is that all.

Early next week, Carlos Slim plans to unveil another expansion of his vast charitable, educational and business infrastructural plan to the world.

Will it satisfy his biggest critics?

I guess we’ll see it in the funny pages.

Copyright © 2007 Bill Friday