Coons said he released a report Thursday, “Embracing Africa's Economic Potential,” which outlines six steps the United States could take to increase trade with Africa without costing taxpayers a dime.

“This report offers specific, concrete recommendations to meet the need for increased economic engagement in sub-Saharan Africa,” Coons said. “If we don’t take action now to invest in trade and development across the continent, we will fall behind our global competitors and potentially shut American businesses out of these fast-growing markets for decades to come.”

His report recommends improving the business climate in Africa by removing barriers to trade, passing and strengthening the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) ahead of reauthorization in 2015 and putting more U.S. Foreign Commercial Service Officers in Africa, among other things.

Coons said that China is increasing its presence in the region and that he fears the United States will miss an opportunity to partner with African countries because China could lock the competition out through contracts.

Coons is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on African Affairs.