Clinton's recent trip included a stop in South Africa where she was joined by executives from big U.S. companies like Boeing, Wal-Mart, Federal Express and General Electric, the first time that has happened on a high-profile Obama administration visit to the region.
President Barack Obama's administration, criticized for not doing enough to boost trade with Africa in the face of rising competition from China, has taken steps in recent months to address those concerns and plans to do more.
After decades of poor performance, Africa is now home to some of the world's fastest-growing economies and China has been signing contracts to lock in long-term access to the continent's huge resources.
"Trade and investment is a critical component of the president's vision for the next five years of U.S. policy towards sub-Saharan Africa," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis told Reuters in an interview.
Obama, in a tough race for re-election against Republican Mitt Romney, in June laid out a "U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa," which touted the continent's potential "to be the world's next major economic success story" and promised to work with the region to free up trade and investment.
But Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa, a U.S. business group, said Obama has not done enough to involve the private sector in planning on Africa.
The strategy paper was a positive step, but it contained few new ideas and business was barely consulted, Hayes said.
The U.S. government must do more to help large U.S. companies compete against big Chinese state-owned companies and other foreign firms, he said.
Two-way trade between China and Africa totaled just $8.9 billion in 2000, but grew more than 1,400 percent over the next decade to $127.3 billion in 2011, according to a U.S. Congressional Research Service report.
Trade between the United States and the more than 40 countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa hit a record $104.1 billion in 2008, but fell sharply during the financial crisis and totaled $94.3 billion last year.
New U.S. investment in the region ran about $3.2 billion in 2010, compared to about $36 billion flowing in from China and the rest of the world, the CRS report said.
U.S. trade policy toward Africa has been guided since 2000 by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which expires in 2015. AGOA waives import duties on a long list of goods made in eligible sub-Saharan African countries.