For the past several years the United States has worked with African leaders on bold initiatives to encourage reform within the continent. Our goal is to improve the lives of the African people, and our partnership is yielding results. The economies of many African nations are growing, and in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, economic growth is now at its highest level in eight years. The growth of your economies has been helped by strong trade ties between our continents.
Last year I signed the African Growth and Opportunity Acceleration Act, which will continue to reduce barriers to trade, increase exports, create jobs, and expand opportunity for Africans and Americans alike. This agreement is giving American businesses greater confidence to invest in Africa. It also encourages African nations to reform their economies, and the law is producing results.
Last year, U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa increased 25 percent. And America's imports from AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Acceleration Act) countries rose 88 percent. This success reflects the growing consensus in both Africa and the United States that open trade and international investment are the surest and fastest ways for Africa to make progress.
AGOA nations are strengthening the rule of law. They are lowering trade barriers. They're combating corruption and protecting workers and eliminating child labor. They're setting an important example for the entire continent, demonstrating that governments that respect individual rights and encourage the development of their markets are more likely to grow economically and achieve political stability. As we increase trade, we are also reforming the way we deliver aid. For too many years, our assistance to Africa was sent without regard to results. Under my administration, U.S. development aid to African nations has increased. But we're not just giving more aid, we're being wiser about how it is spent.
The idea is based on common sense. Aid works best in countries that are proving their commitment to govern justly, respect the rule of law, invest in their citizens, and open up their economies. When nations do these things, and expand freedom and opportunities to all their citizens, entire societies can be lifted out of poverty and despair.
In 2002, we launched the Millennium Challenge account, to provide aid to poor nations based on these principles. In April, Madagascar became the first country to sign a compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and I'm confident that other African nations will follow.
At a time when freedom is on the march around the world, it is vital that the continent of Africa be a place of democracy and prosperity and hope, where people grow up healthy and have the opportunity to realize their dreams.
Africa is a continent of promise. And the United States wants to help the people of Africa realize the brighter future they deserve.