Timor-Leste became an independent nation in 2002, following more than four hundred years of Portuguese colonization, twenty-four years of Indonesian occupation, and three years of United Nations transitional administration. The country faces the challenge of building a strong democracy and vibrant economy against a background of still-fragile institutions and limited human capital. The United States and Timor-Leste enjoy excellent bilateral relations based on shared interests and values, and the United States is committed to strengthening and deepening this partnership.
U.S. Assistance to Timor-Leste
The United States has a significant bilateral development assistance program and is also a major donor to a number of multilateral agencies active in Timor-Leste, such as the United Nations, Asian Development Bank, and World Bank. U.S. development assistance is delivered through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) governance, health, tourism, private sector productivity, digital connectivity and agricultural programs; year-round rotations of U.S. Navy Seabees; and a growing Peace Corps program. In December 2017, the Millennium Challenge Corporation selected Timor-Leste for a five-year grant program, and is partnering with the Timorese government to address key drivers of poverty and promote economic growth. In 2018, the U.S Department of Agriculture announced Timor-Leste as a recipient of a $26 million, five-year McGovern-Dole nutrition and education program. U.S. assistance focuses on bolstering stability by strengthening the foundations of good governance, improving the health of the Timorese people, supporting the professionalization of the Timorese security forces, and creating jobs for the rapidly growing and youthful population by accelerating economic growth.
Bilateral Economic Relations
Timor-Leste remains one of the least developed countries in the world and there is little direct trade with the United States. The economy is dependent on government spending (financed by petroleum revenues) and, to a lesser extent, assistance from international donors including the United States. Private sector development has lagged due to public spending that crowds out private enterprise, a lack of skilled workers, infrastructure weakness, an incomplete legal system, an incomplete land tenure system, difficulty accessing credit, and an inefficient regulatory environment. The U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Government of Timor-Leste have signed an Investment Incentive Agreement. The second largest export is coffee, which generates between $15 and $30 million a year. The United States, via USAID, helped establish the coffee industry in East Timor in the 1990s, and today, Starbucks Coffee Company is a major purchaser of Timorese coffee. McCormick spice company purchases Timorese vanilla, cloves, and pepper. The United States supports efforts to diversify the Timorese economy and develop a private sector.
Timor-Leste’s Membership in International Organizations
Timor-Leste’s foreign policy places high priority on its relationships with its nearest neighbors Indonesia and Australia and its other neighbors in the region. Timor-Leste also places a high priority on its relations with friendly countries and donors, most notably the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the g7+ grouping of fragile and post-conflict states. One of its top foreign policy objectives is to join ASEAN, which the United States supports. Timor-Leste applied for ASEAN membership in 2011, but an ASEAN decision to admit the nation is still pending. In June 2018, the United States formally included Timor-Leste in Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), the U.S. Government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking among youth in Southeast Asia. Timor-Leste and the United States belong to many of the same international organizations, including the United Nations, ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank.
The U.S. is represented in country by Ambassador Kathleen Fitzpatrick; other principal embassy officials are listed in the Department’s Key Officers List.
Timor-Leste maintains an embassy in the United States at 4201 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20008 (telephone: 202-966-3202).
More information about Timor-Leste is available from the Department of State and other sources, some of which are listed here: