President Barack Obama left the United States on Thursday for a trip to Ethiopia and Kenya, homeland of his father, as he highlights growth in American economic links with sub-Saharan Africa.
Obama is scheduled to arrive Friday in Kenya, where he will attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi. Later, he will become the first American president to visit Ethiopia.
Human rights groups have criticized Obama's trip to Ethiopia because of the country's handling of political dissent.
Late Wednesday, Obama spoke about trade with Africa at a White House reception marking the signing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.
He said despite Africa's challenges, Africa is a dynamic place with some of the fastest-growing markets in the world, adding the continent has the potential to be the next center of global economic opportunity.
Obama said the trade law will continue to encourage good governance, as well as labor and human rights in Africa.
Last month, the president signed a 10-year extension of the country's main trade authority with Africa – a 15-year effort that boosted U.S.-Africa trade to $73 billion last year, with U.S. exports accounting for slightly more than half of that total.
More than 40 sub-Saharan countries are eligible for trade benefits under the law, through which most imports from Africa enter the United States duty free.
Two of the main beneficiaries are oil exporters Angola and Nigeria.
Even as U.S. trade with Africa has grown rapidly, it trails resource-hungry China, now with $200 billion in annual African trade, and the 28-nation European Union with $140 billion.
Obama has made a concerted effort to increase U.S. ties with Africa. Last August, he staged the inaugural U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington.
The U.S. said the Africa trade measure supports an estimated 350,000 jobs.
As the trade extension advanced in Congress, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and National Security Adviser Susan Rice said it has "provided vital economic opportunities," helping African companies become more competitive and opening the path for more investments in them.