Australian Prime Minister John Howard argued forcefully late on Monday for rich nations to tear down their trade barriers as the most effective way of transforming the fortunes of the world's poor.
Speaking ahead of summit talks with US President George W. Bush in Washington yesterday, Howard also said that nations must not flinch in the "war on terror" in light of the July 7 attacks in London, which he is set to visit later in the week.
In a wide-ranging speech to the US Chamber of Commerce, the prime minister said a free trade agreement between the US and Australia that took effect on Jan. 1 was solid proof of the nations' "special relationship."
But Howard also had a veiled message to trading powers such as the US and EU as liberalization negotiations count down to a crunch ministerial gathering of the WTO in Hong Kong in December.
"It is beyond argument that the value to developing countries of removing the most pernicious of the trade barriers maintained by developed countries would do infinitely more to help those countries, than would increases in overseas aid," he said.
Howard said he sympathized with Live 8 organizer Bob Geldof and debt-relief supporters "that the world does have a moral obligation."
"But it has to be a moral obligation that is delivered calmly and with the proper understanding that we can do a lot more by addressing trade imperfections, and we have every right to insist that standards of governance are properly delivered," he said.
It was crucial that the WTO achieve a breakthrough in its "Doha round" of talks that will climax in December.
"Because if we don't, I think there'll be a significant collapse of confidence in the capacity of the world acting multilaterally to solve some of our most deep-seated problems," Howard said.
As a leading light in the "Cairns group" of agricultural exporters, Australia has been in the vanguard of calls for trade liberalization, especially in farming produce.
That has contrasted with the apparent reluctance of the US and the EU to go dramatically further in scrapping their own generous subsidies to their farmers.
As the WTO struggles with its Doha agenda, Howard's government has embarked on a series of bilateral free trade agreements, arguing they are the only way of achieving practical results under the current system.
Howard said that, coupled with a new US visa regime for Australian professionals and business people, the free trade deal gave a message "to the rest of the world that there is a special character to this relationship."
"The free trade agreement represents an expression of optimism about the future of that relationship," he said.
"As our economy and yours becomes more enmeshed as the years go by ... people will look back on the passage of this free trade agreement and remark what a remarkable, far-sighted contribution it's made to relations between the two countries," he added.