Latin America Gain Inflight of Capital

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Latin America Gains Inflight of Capital
Published By: The Ottawa Citizen
Michael Lewis
May 2, 1998

Asia's currency crisis is spurring a flight of western capital from the Far East to Latin America, an Ottawa conference was told yesterday.

And the major thrust of investment is in high technology, ranging from telecommunications infrastructure to computer hardware and software, said a founding partner of Washington, D.C.-based Smith Brandon International.

Harry Brandon said privatization, austerity measures to combat inflation and political stability in countries such as Brazil, Chile and Argentina have nurtured a business-friendly environment -- and created tremendous demand for high-tech products.

Brazil, for example, is "rife for anything you have," said Mr. Brandon, whose firm helps North American companies establish operations and partnerships in countries around the world.

With a population of 160 million people and a well-educated middle class that considers the latest in high-tech products sector sexy, Brazil is a logical choice for local companies looking to expand offshore, said Smith Brandon 's other founding partner, Gene Smith.

She said Brazil's information industry flourished behind a wall of government tariffs, but the barriers inflated prices, spurred a flourishing trade in contraband computers -- and prevented the country from sharing in technological advances. The result is pent-up demand for "anything online," she told an audience of about 30 area business and government leaders.

Moreover, she said Brazil's budding telecommunications sector is bypassing hardwire installations -- phone lines and cable -- and jumping straight to digital.

She said high-tech companies scouting new markets should consider Mexico, Brazil and Chile, in that order, along with Russia and India, although measures need to be taken to ensure personal security in Mexico City and Moscow in particular. China offers vast opportunities and profound challenges, especially for high-tech companies, Mr. Brandon added.

He said Chinese businesspeople have difficulty grasping the concept of national distribution. And while demand for technology is almost insatiable in China, new products will invariably be copied and brought to market within a few years, a function partly of ambiguous laws relating to patents and intellectual property.

Mr. Brandon, who retired from the FBI after 23 years, said there are places where investors and expanding companies should give a wide berth, including Colombia and North Korea, which have the potential for violent insurrection.

He called Hong Kong and Singapore "overheated and overbuilt" and said Thailand, where the currency and prices have bottomed out, offers opportunities -- "if you can get paid and if you can get your money out."

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