PM focuses on trade in new global initiative

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will call tonight for the leaders of the world's richest nations to let the poorest into their exclusive club or face the consequences at home.

The Prime Minister wants to use his high profile on the global stage to stop the world trade talks from collapsing next month. Mr Blair's presidency of the European Union and of the G8 group of leading industrialised nations end on 31 December, and questions are being asked about what he has achieved.

The EU is deadlocked over its spending plans and split over Turkey's application to join, while world leaders are divided over how to tackle global warming. Modest progress in Israel has been overshadowed by the worsening bloodshed in Iraq, tension over Iran's planned nuclear programme and a series of al-Qa'ida attacks around the world.

Meanwhile gloom is increasing over the chances of a lasting agreement when the 148 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) hold a crucial round of talks in Hong Kong next month. Developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America are livid over the refusal of Europe and North America to open their markets to other nations. They argue that the benefits from boosting trade would far outstrip any aid that could supplied from the West.

Mr Blair will use the Lord Mayor's Banquet address, his annual keynote speech on foreign affairs, to turn the spotlight on the trade talks.

And he will hint that failure to reach a deal could ultimately have a devastating knock-on effect in encouraging terrorist attacks in the prosperous West.

He will say: "In a modern world there is no security or prosperity at home unless we deal with the global challenges of conflict, terrorism, trade, climate change and poverty.

"Self-interest and mutual interest are inextricably linked. National interests can best be advanced through collective action." Mr Blair has already said that failure in Hong Kong "will echo right round the world" and has promised the "most monumental struggle" to prevent the talks from collapsing.

He will say tonight that the Gleneagles summit of G8 leaders in the summer "showed the world, and the world's poor, that political leaders in rich countries not only care about world poverty, but are capable of acting together to help eliminate it."

The Prime Minister will say that the leaders co-operated at Gleneagles to increase aid, cancel debt, fight Aids and malaria, invest in free health and education, combat corruption, and encourage peace-keeping.

He will add: "The challenge now is to extend that principle of co-operation into the multilateral trading system ... Sometimes I worry that we lose sight of what is at stake."

Talks have so far foundered on disagreements between the European Union and the United States and within the EU on cutting subsidies for farmers and lowering the tariffs that cripple exporters from the developing world.

Three days of talks in London and Geneva last week ended in stalemate with Brazil and Argentina, representing developing countries, and the EU blaming each other for the impasse.

A collapse in the Hong Kong talks, with all WTO members around the table, would be a disaster for the cause of opening up world markets.

Amy Barry, trade spokesman for Oxfam International, said the British Government's promise to put Africa's problems on the agenda of world leaders was undermined by the failure to end haggling over the trade deal. "Every day this trade deal doesn't get done people in the developing world are being affected by unfair trade rules. It is often said that for every dollar we give in aid, we take away another two because of the trade rules."

Meanwhile Stephen Twigg, the former Labour MP who is now director of the Foreign Policy Centre, said Mr Blair should use the speech to highlight the growing threat to Britain's fuel supplies. He said: "At a time of high oil prices, with massive demand on our dwindling supplies from rising powers such as India and China, the world's energy security is one of the most pressing challenges for collective foreign policy.

"Britain is increasingly reliant on oil and gas resources which are primarily sourced from areas of the world which are politically unstable and from regimes which do not respect human rights or international law."

As the Prime Minister begins to consider his legacy there is little disguising the emphasis he has put on tackling Africa's woes. And from 1997 onwards foreign policy issues have been a key priority for Mr Blair, who dispatched troops to the Balkans and Sierra Leone and attempted to build bridges with other EU leaders.

But David Clark, former special adviser to the late foreign secretary Robin Cook, said he believed the Prime Minister's record in foreign affairs had been "largely negative".

"Tony Blair was originally keen that Britain should be at the heart of Europe and be a leader in Europe. Now Britain is pretty much back to where it was under John Major. His foreign policy was built around being a bridge across the Atlantic. That fell apart when George Bush became President because the Atlantic became too wide for any country, even one as diplomatically skilled as Britain, to bridge. When he came to choose he chose America."

He added: "In terms of the G8 presidency, he has put development issues higher up the agenda and put a clear focus on poverty reduction. He and Gordon Brown deserve credit for that."