With the U.S. economy on the rocks, savvy investors are looking for refuge among fast-growing foreign markets. We took you on a trip around the world in 80 sentences to find the best-performing international companies.

Then, we invited you to participate in our Motley Fool CAPS community and voice your opinions on the best international stocks. Now the votes are in, and we're ready to declare a global winner for 2008.

Falling a little bit short
The competition was fierce. While there were two clear leaders, several companies battled for the bronze. Mexican wireless provider America Movil (NYSE: AMX) presented an impressive combination of Latin American growth opportunities and attractive valuations. MercadoLibre (Nasdaq: MELI), Argentina's answer to eBay, may cost a pretty penny -- but the company has investors hoping to turn back the clock to 1998 to get a second chance at a Latin American Internet boom.

By a nose, third place goes to Chinese search engine Baidu.com (Nasdaq: BIDU). Despite some concerns about Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) recent earnings shortfall, the future still looks bright across the Pacific. And like Google, Baidu is branching out beyond its search business, looking to open an auction site and taking on the challenging Japanese market.

Feasting on success
Our second-place finisher is a classic defensive play. With Brazil's skyrocketing stock market making investors nervous, Sadia (NYSE: SDA) is a natural place to look for cover. Food processing and distribution are just about the most recession-proof industries you can find, so even if a U.S. slowdown brings the rest of the world down with it, Sadia shouldn't suffer as much as more economically sensitive stocks, like Petrobras (NYSE: PBR).

But based on the company's actions, Sadia doesn't see a global recession in the cards. It's ramping up its production capacity around the world. It hopes to increase exports of its name-brand processed foods, in order to build customer loyalty and brand recognition. And a recent drop in its share price has investors salivating like pork lovers at a luau.

Building a winning foundation
In the end, though, our readers wanted something a little more solid than just a good meal. Looking south of the border, investors overwhelmingly chose Mexican cement-maker Cemex (NYSE: CX) as the best international stock of 2008. It may not dig up diamonds or mine gold, but Cemex has been turning rocks into cash throughout the world, responding to the global construction boom by taking advantage of high demand for building materials.

After taking top prize in our Black Friday Bargain Stock contest last Thanksgiving, Cemex has kept up the momentum. And even though winning analyst Anand Chokkavelu is under no illusions that the company's high growth can continue indefinitely, he does think that Cemex will keep profiting from strong economies -- wherever they may be. Combined with an attractive stock price, that was enough to convince readers to give Cemex the top spot.

The game never ends
Even if your favorite stock didn't make it to the winner's circle, that doesn't mean you won't be a winner. Keep tabs on your stock picks on Motley Fool CAPS and find out what more than 83,000 other investors think about companies both close to home and across the globe.

And for more on stocks in the U.S., be sure to check out our Best Stocks for 2008 series. You can also find out what companies to avoid by reading the entries for the Worst Stocks for 2008.

Sadia is a Hidden Gems recommendation. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cemex, which is a Stock Advisor and Global Gains recommendation. eBay is also a Stock Advisor pick. Baidu.com is a Rule Breakers selection. Petrobras is an Income Investor pick. Don't be overwhelmed with all the newsletter name-dropping. Try any of the mentioned newsletters free for 30 days to uncover more stock recommendations.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger wants to travel the world someday. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool's disclosure policy is a great pick for 2008 and beyond.