Since 1975, the foreign policy of the islands has been a function of small population size and geopolitical location. In the past, the government was nonaligned and anti-imperialist with close ties to socialist states, such as Cuba, East Germany, China and Angola. In 1975 São Tomé and Príncipe joined the Organization of African Unity and in 1977 became a member of the IMF. Since the collapse of its Soviet and Eastern European allies, the country has enjoyed closer links with the United States, the European Union—especially Portugal—and with Brazil and Angola. The country was a founding member of the Communauté Économique des Etats de l'Afrique Centrale (CEEAC) in 1983, and the seven-member Lusophone community, the Communidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP) in 1996. In 1997 it also joined the 52-member community of Francophone countries, La Francophonie. In an era of insecure oil and gas supplies, São Tomé and Príncipe have become strategic for the United States.
De Menezes and his governmental coalition's first priority is to consolidate donor assistance. In 1995, foreign assistance was $84 million—twice the country's GDP—but in 2000 it declined to $49 million after hitting a low of $28 million in 1999. Nevertheless, São Toméans still have one of the highest foreign assistance per capita rates in the world. The main donors are Portugal, Taiwan, the EU, and the IMF. The administration also seeks to develop closer ties with Portugual, the United States, the EU, the East, and with Mozambique. De Menezes has visited Taiwan, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Nigeria. In May 2003, the President made a four-day trip to Mozambique aimed at increasing bilateral cooperation. Under discussion is a plan to eliminate visa requirements between the two countries.
In what appears to be a breakthrough in Nigerian-São Toméan relations, President Obasanjo of Nigeria and de Menezes signed an agreement establishing the Joint High Authority for managing oil exploration in the two countries' common development zone. The successful negotiation of arrangements with Nigeria, Angola, and other oil producing nations and oil importers will be critical for this President. Former President Trovoada's dubious oil exploration deal with Nigeria in the formerly disputed international maritime boundary area was seen by many as a 'pact with the devil.' Indeed, Nigeria's oil operations have been opaque and corruption-prone, prompting accusations that Nigeria was exporting 'bad governance' to its neighbors—a situation that de Menezes wants to avoid.