(CNN) - Mitt Romney sought to bolster his foreign policy credentials Tuesday, stressing his plan to strengthen aid to developing markets overseas through free enterprise and trade.
"The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise. Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America's own economy," Romney said at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.
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The annual event, established in 2005 by former President Bill Clinton, features discussions and programs on how to improve conditions for girls and women, spur development, and better global health and technology. President Barack Obama will also address the gathering later Tuesday.
Romney argued his plan, which he calls the "Prosperity Pact," is a break from past policies. The guidelines state that the U.S. would provide aid to developing countries that remove barriers to investment and trade.
"I've laid out a new approach for a new era," Romney said. "We'll couple aid with trade and private investment to empower individuals, encourage innovators, and reward entrepreneurs."
While Romney acknowledged the growth of microfinance systems–the practice of granting small loans to individuals or groups in impoverished countries–the Republican nominee's campaign said in a separate memo that microloans are only a "poverty alleviation strategy" and called for a "much greater focus" for small and medium-sized businesses that are too big for microfinance.
Romney also took the opportunity to bring up the recent unrest in the Middle East, including the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens two weeks ago.
"Religious extremism is certainly part of the problem," Romney said "But that's not the whole story."
Citing the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire and sparked the Arab Spring, Romney said the vendor who was humiliated by government forces wanted to provide for his family.
The freedom of an individual to work, Romney said, is at the core of his foreign aid plan.
"Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike," Romney said.
Romney's comments come a day after the White House hopeful railed the incumbent president over foreign policy, particularly Obama's handling of tension in the Middle East and other Arab nations.
Romney used a campaign stop in the battleground state of Colorado to question Obama's comments in a recent interview during which the president said recent unrest in Libya would not prevent the country from developing a functioning government that adequately represents its people.
"I think it was absolutely the right thing for us to do to align ourselves with democracy, universal rights, a notion that people have to be able to participate in their own governance," Obama said in a CBS "60 Minutes" interview Sunday. "But I was pretty certain and continue to be pretty certain that there are going to be bumps in the road because, you know, in a lot of these places, the one organizing principle has been Islam."
Romney said Obama's comments belittled the gravity of the situation defined by the armed militant assault on the consulate.
"These are not bumps in the road, these are human lives," Romney said in Pueblo. "These are developments we do not want to see."
- CNN's Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.