Removing trade barriers will help Africa more than aid, says Blair

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The Prime Minister urged the West to slash trade barriers to Africa yesterday as an alternative to propping up the world's poorest countries with handouts.

On the second day of his tour of west Africa, Tony Blair also called for a court of human rights for the continent, to bring despots to justice. Speaking in Ghana, he sketched a vision of partnership, rather than dependency, between the First and Third Worlds. But he stressed that the world's wealthiest nations had a responsibility to provide a "hand up" to Africa.

Mr Blair pointed to tariffs of up to 300 per cent on African produce, telling parliament in Accra, the Ghanaian capital: "Developed countries retain significant barriers to trade, particularly in agriculture. We need a fundamental shift in our approach to aid.

"What we need is a comprehensive plan where on both sides we have obligations to help each other – on aid, on proper governance, on conflict resolution, on health, on education – on all the issues that go to make up a situation where the potential of Africa is not being used properly. This is something that's in our interest to achieve. This should be done as a partnership – not aid as a handout, but as a hand up, to help people to help themselves."

The Prime Minister, whose speech was silenced for a moment when the microphones stopped working, also repeated his message that no nation could hope to isolate itself from world events.

"In this world today there is no such thing as a nation that can stand alone, shut off from the world. Today, we are all in this together. If we had any doubts about it before 11 September, those doubts were removed then." Mr Blair also pledged that Britain and its G8 partners would act to build peace-keeping capabilities in Africa, providing expertise, training and possibly funding. But nations such as Ghana should provide troops and personnel to build peace in Africa.

Mr Blair goes on to Sierra Leone today, where British troops are still stationed two years after they were sent in to restore order when rebels attacked the capital, Freetown.

He finishes his tour in Senegal for a round-table discussion of Africa's problems with leaders from the continent and Michel Camdessus, representing the French government.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on International Development, said: "The Prime Minister's visit gives the Government a prime opportunity to make a real difference. It is time he matched his rhetoric with action and financial investment."

The Tories repeated their attack on Mr Blair for not visiting Zimbabwe. Michael Ancram, the shadow Foreign Secretary, asked: "Why does he avoid going anywhere near Zimbabwe?"