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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair: Africa Has Golden Chance

ACCRA, Ghana -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on the West to slash trade barriers to Africa and has produced a blueprint for tackling conflicts on the world's poorest continent.

Stressing the theme of partnership in a speech to Ghana's parliament on Friday, Blair said the world's rich nations must practice what they preach.

"Developed countries retain significant barriers to trade, particularly in agriculture," he said.

In some cases, tariffs of up to 300 percent are slapped on African produce, he said, while rich OECD nations receive farm subsidies worth $450 billion a year, equivalent roughly to Africa's entire gross domestic product.

Blair and President John Kufuor visited a cocoa plantation outside the capital for a close-up view of the problem.

The raw material produced there is exported to the European Union but because of punitive tariffs is only made into chocolate in Germany, depriving the producers of all but a fraction of the price of the finished product.

"When we get to the next round of world trade talks we have got to make sure countries like Ghana get access to markets," Blair said, before tramping into the undergrowth to look at cocoa pods followed by hundreds of onlookers.

Blair also pledged Britain and its G8 partners would help peacekeeping capabilities in Africa.

Blair's message, stated during a four-day tour through Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Senegal -- which boils down to a call for people to work together to end war and create global free trade -- could sound like pie in the sky to those with a skeptical bent. But the prime minister has an answer and he seems to believe it.

The Sept. 11 attacks on the United States shook the world so hard, he argues, that old intractable positions can be changed.

"There are times in politics ... when it is possible to do what was thought impossible only a short time before," Blair told Ghana's parliament on Friday. "Now is such a time."

He argued during the visit that engaging African states can reduce the risk of them becoming breeding grounds for the kind of people who carried out the U.S. attacks.

"If we leave failed states in parts of Africa the problems sooner or later end up on our doorstep," he told Sky News in a Sunday interview in Senegal.

Blair, who often seems as idealistic on the world stage as he is hard-headed at home, is under no illusions.

He visited Nigeria on Thursday just days after ethnic violence left more than 100 dead on the streets of Lagos.

And flying to Sierra Leone on Saturday, he skirted nearby anarchic Liberia, where government forces fought off rebels a few kilometers from the capital, a day after President Charles Taylor declared a state of emergency.

The West's part of the bargain -- to cut trade barriers and open up markets to African produce -- looks as far away as lasting peace on the world's poorest continent.

Reform of farm policy in the European Union has been painfully slow while the United States and Japan, gripped by a global slowdown, are even less inclined to open up markets.

Blair's tactic seems to be to up the ante so far that when the Group of Eight leading nations next meet in Canada this summer, they will not be able to ignore Africa again without being shamed.

Blair championed a "Plan For Africa" when the G8 last met in Genoa last summer, aiming to increase aid and trade and tackle diseases like AIDS. Concrete proposals are promised.

"I don't underestimate the difficulties there will be putting this together," Blair told reporters before flying home from Dakar. "But there is a great responsibility on us not to hold out the prospect of hope and then not deliver on it."

On the ground, reaction to Blair has been instructive.

In Sierra Leone, British troops were sent in two years ago after rebel fighters, notorious for hacking off civilians' limbs, flouted a peace deal and seized peacekeepers as hostages.

Blair hailed their intervention as proof that war-ravaged Africa can be coaxed onto the path of peace. Locals agreed.

"He is great," Mohamed Turay, resident of a poverty-stricken village, said when Blair moved outside Freetown on Saturday.

"Thank You Blair. Welcome to the Peacemaker" read a banner in the village of Mahera -- a message from war-weary Sierra Leoneans for Britain's role in ending the war.

In Ghana, where trade is key, the response was cooler.

Seth Takyi, a local politician and accountant, was unimpressed. "Most of the time it's just words," he said. "We have heard these lyrics before. We want to see more than that."

But those close to Blair say his eyes have been opened.