In 2012 some 160 Irish companies participated in the Africa Ireland Economic Forum, an annual event hosted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the objective of supporting Irish companies interested in investing or trading in Africa. The range of interests expressed by Irish companies in Africa varies from agribusiness to financial services and telecommunications. The majority of companies are interested in initially trading and investing in the more mature South African market, often using South Africa as a basis to penetrate other markets in the region. In November 2012, I led an Enterprise Ireland trade mission involving 35 Irish companies to South Africa to further strengthen Irish private sector links with the southern Africa region.
Last year I also led a trade focused visit to Nigeria and Ghana, which involved senior representatives from Enterprise Ireland and An Bord Bia. This has resulted in a significant increase in the level of interest by Irish companies in West Africa. During July, visits are taking place by officials from my Department, Enterprise Ireland and An Bord Bia to Nigeria to prepare for a trade mission, which will involve a number of Irish companies, scheduled for November 2013. Irish companies are also involved in pursuing additional business opportunities across African markets without necessarily linking directly with my Department or with state agencies.
The Africa Strategy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade launched in 2011, outlines a new relationship with Africa which not only includes development aid but also seeks deeper political and economic relations. This approach has been warmly welcomed by all of our partner countries in Africa and has created a framework for closer relations with the Irish private sector that is already engaged across the continent.