A PEAK BEHIND THE CURTAIN…

The events detailed in the three-page memo from Owen Barder are nearly 10 years old and much as changed in the Wal-Mart world, but the story remains instructive of the level of access the company has wielded in the past. And how it might leverage its economic clout in the future. From The Telegraph: Details of a secret Downing Street meeting held between Tony Blair, the then prime minister, and a senior Wal-Mart executive just months before the world's biggest retailer pounced on Asda have finally been released, some nine years after the £7bn deal was struck. The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that Bob Martin, the then chief executive of Wal-Mart International, complained at the meeting to Tony Blair about Britain's restrictive planning rules. The minutes of the meeting, released last month by the Cabinet Office after a direct order from the information watchdog, lay bare the lobbying strategy employed by Wal-Mart before it bought Asda in July 1999. The meeting on February 26 1999 has long been the subject of fevered speculation. The minutes, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Martin told Blair that "the main obstacle to entering the UK market was zoning and planning controls". The result was that "Wal-Mart concluded they could only come into the UK by acquisition of an existing company [as they had in Germany]". I found former Prime Minister Tony Blair's closing statement instructive. Blair was clearly impressed by Martin. When Wal-Mart bought Asda for £6.7bn four months later, Blair went out of his way to welcome the deal and defended his meeting with Martin. He said: "I make no apologies for it whatever. We pay too much not just for our basic goods, but across a range of services." Do you think Blair understands that there are more to costs than what you pay at the register? Jeff Hess: Have Coffee Will Write.

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