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Trade Capacity Building: Foreign Assistance for Trade and Development

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Trade capacity building (TCB) is a form of development assistance provided by the United States and other donors to help developing countries participate in and benefit from global trade. In addition to helping developing countries negotiate and implement trade agreements, TCB includes development assistance for agricultural development, customs administration, business training, physical infrastructure development, financial sector development, and labor and environmental standards. Some experts believe that TCB is necessary for developing countries to adjust to trade liberalization and achieve trade-led economic growth.

In FY2006, the United States obligated about $1.4 billion in TCB worldwide. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds and implements the majority of U.S. TCB programs. In FY2005, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) began to fund TCB activities, and in FY2006 it overtook USAID as the agency with the highest TCB obligations. Other agencies also provide TCB, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Treasury Department, the Department of Labor, and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA). The United States also contributes to multilateral funds for TCB, and it contributes to multilateral development banks such as the World Bank, which also provide TCB programs.

Congress has played a key role in TCB by providing funding through appropriations legislation. In the 109th Congress, the House passed a measure to create a Trade Capacity Enhancement Fund in the 2007 Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill (H.R. 5522), but this measure was not included in the Senate bill. TCB was part of the discussions within Congress in considering implementing legislation for the free trade agreement with Central America and the Dominican Republic (DR-CAFTA). It may become a key part of the 110th Congress' discussions on potential free trade agreements (FTAs) with developing countries, renewal of trade promotion authority (TPA), and U.S. involvement in the Doha round of WTO negotiations. The 110th Congress may also be interested in using TCB to increase the effectiveness of trade preference programs initiated through legislation such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

In the past, Congress has passed legislation restricting the use of foreign assistance for certain activities promoting trade in developing countries. While TCB generally has trade-promoting motivations, any resulting increased import competition could also raise Congressional concern.

This report describes trade capacity building and discusses the history of TCB in foreign assistance. It also provides an overview of U.S. bilateral TCB assistance, as well as multilateral and bilateral TCB assistance from other donors. There is also a discussion of legislation affecting TCB, including appropriations and legislative restrictions on foreign assistance. Finally, this report highlights some of the policy issues concerning TCB. This report will be updated as events warrant.