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Liberal leadership front-runner Paul Martin took his campaign to the United Nations yesterday, saying he wants Canada to play a leading role in Third World development and international affairs.

Mr. Martin joined Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York for the launch of a UN commission on the private sector and development, a commission that he will co-chair with former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Martin said a more robust role for Canada on the world stage would yield dividends when, for example, countries such as Japan shut Canadian beef out of its market.

"I happen to think that Canada's role in the world is very important and the degree to which we are seen to be playing an important role in the world gives us a great deal more weight when it comes time to deal with, for instance, the Japanese in terms of BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy -- mad-cow disease]or the Americans," he said.

While he described it as a personal initiative, Mr. Martin said his co-chairmanship of the UN commission, which will recommend measures aimed at increasing indigenous entrepreneurship -- is an illustration of his approach to foreign policy.

"This is an area where I think Canada can chart out a position of major leadership and is very much consistent with my vision of Canada playing a leading role on the world stage."

Progressive Conservative Leader Peter MacKay criticized Mr. Martin's UN work, saying the man most people expect to be the next prime minister should be concentrating on domestic issues.

"Mr. Martin's priorities are out of kilter," Mr. MacKay said. "Helping developing countries develop their economies is important and necessary. But at this particular point in time Mr. Martin should be concentrating his energies here at home."

Mr. Martin said Mr. MacKay is guilty of "tunnel vision."

He said asserting Canada's position would only help domestic interests, while also bringing some much-needed leadership to the broader world, as Canada did when it was the moving force behind the formation of UN peacekeeping.

He said he agrees with critics who argue Canada has not maintained its influence on the world stage. In the past, Mr. Martin has said the federal government will have to devote more resources to foreign affairs and the military to re-establish that influence.

But yesterday, he emphasized Canadian leadership in international organizations such as the United Nations and World Bank, which are the primary agencies for international development.

The former finance minister said the part-time appointment will not detract from his ability to campaign for the Liberal Party leadership, nor does it suggest he is taking anything for granted.

"The situation is not too unlike that of cabinet ministers who were running. They have responsibilities as cabinet ministers which I did not have," he said.

Mr. Martin said the UN work is a personal priority for him but also represents the kind of role he sees a Martin-led government playing on the world stage.

"I believe that as the global village gets smaller, there is a tremendous need for structural change to take place to make globalization work for everybody."

Mr. Martin has been a major proponent of trade and financial liberalization in order to spur Third World development and of increases in debt relief and foreign-aid budgets.

(He cut Canada's foreign-aid budget as part of Ottawa's deficit fight in the mid-1990s but said that was necessary because Canada's "back was against the wall.")

Yesterday, he said those global policies are necessary but will not bear fruit unless citizens of the Third World build up their own private capital.