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Major drive to increase bilateral trade between Ireland and South Africa

Trade relations between South Africa and Ireland will enter a new phase this week, with the visit of an Irish Trade Mission to South Africa and the opening of a Johannesburg office of the Irish trade and technology agency, Enterprise Ireland.  

Ms. Jan O’Sullivan T.D., Ireland’s Minister for Trade and Development, will lead the Trade Mission of 27 Irish companies to meet with potential trading partners in Johannesburg and Cape Town, as part of a broad, long term strategy to  further develop trade links in the region.

South Africa has one of the most sophisticated business environments in Africa and is the regional economic powerhouse in Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 30% of total GDP. The opening of the new office, the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa, is a clear demonstration of Ireland’s commitment to fostering trade with South Africa and the region.

Minister O’Sullivan describes South Africa as an important trading partner for Ireland and attributes a significant role to this country for aiding the Irish economic recovery. Last year Irish exports to South Africa amounted to €938 million - up 23% on the previous year, while South African exports to Ireland were almost €300 million in the same period.

Against the backdrop of the recent economic difficulties in Europe, the Irish economy continues to put in one of the best trade performances on that continent. In 2010 its exports amounted to €163 billion, up 8% on the previous year, while its positive trade balance grew by €36 billion, up 17% on the previous year.  

This week’s trade mission profiles Ireland as a world-class supplier of goods and tradable services and is part of a broader strategy to develop increased bilateral trade between Ireland and South Africa.  In the course of the trade events and meetings between Irish companies and their local counterparts, the message that “Ireland is open for business” will be key, highlighting the country’s improving economic performance and particularly its recent technology-led economic performance.

Participants represent a wide range of Ireland’s industrial and consumer product and service sectors, some of which are already well established in the local marketplace and others that plan to include South Africa in their future business strategy.

The mission will target opportunities across the business spectrum in South Africa, and particularly in sectors where Irish companies are already active. These include software, telecommunications, financial software and services, construction and engineering, education, e-Learning and training, beverages, plastics, waste water management, traffic management products, publishing and pharmaceutical products.

The new Enterprise Ireland office will play a significant role in growing existing trade relationships as well as in developing new ones.

Over 150 Enterprise Ireland clients are now doing business in South Africa; a substantial number have built up a local presence, with 30 Irish companies with local subsidiaries employing over 13,000 people.

Minister O’Sullivan said that Ireland had responded well to the global economic downturn:

“The indications of recovery can be seen in our current export performance. Clearly, the overall effect of the economic difficulties has not affected the calibre of the offerings of Irish companies and educational bodies. Irish exports are at an all time high, driving renewed growth.  Economic recovery in international markets is fuelling increased demand for Irish products and services.  Irish companies are widening their market reach, expanding into new international markets, opening up new business.” 

The Minister said that, despite the financial and economic difficulties across the global economy, there is a vibrant enterprise sector in Ireland that is world-class in its capacity and performance.  

"Now more than ever Irish companies are keenly aware of the importance of dedicating time in the market to talking, sharing information, developing deeper mutual understanding and building relationships with their buyers and partners, she said.  It is clear that as the economic gateway to Africa, South Africa has an important role to play in Ireland’s trade strategy in this region, while Ireland is similarly well placed to serve as the economic gateway to Europe for South African exporters".