Irish exporting companies interested in looking toward the African market are being advised to consider emerging economies on the continent which traditionally have been overlooked.
A new report from banking giant Barclays points out that fast growing emerging markets in Sub-Saharan Africa are fuelling a surge in trade between Ireland and Africa, and are presenting companies with new opportunities.
Barclays is estimating that by 2020, so-called "sleeping giant" economies like Ethiopia, DR Congo, Tanzania, Ghana and Mozambique will have a total population akin to the United States by the end of the decade, with surging growth rates.
Rob Roughan, head of global corporates at Barclays Bank Ireland, said Irish businesses should broaden their horizons when looking at the sprawling continent.
"Major African economies such as South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria have been the primary focus of Irish companies to date, but with increased competition, businesses need to diversify their trade and investment markets to broaden their horizons and compete more effectively," he said.
"By 2020, the five 'sleeping giant' economies of Ethiopia, DR Congo, Mozambique, Ghana and Tanzania that we have identified in our Index, will alone represent a population of circa 325 million people, comparable with the US, and experiencing rates of economic growth that were once the preserve of India and China.
"Household spending for these countries is also set to nearly double, so companies that establish themselves in these markets now will be positioned to reap the awards of rapid growth by 2020."
Late last year, Trade and Development Minister Sean Sherlock told the Africa/Ireland Economic Forum that the Government wants to complement Ireland's traditional commitment in Africa, which has been focused largely on aid and development, with an economic commitment focused on boosting access and opportunities for Irish companies.
Several Irish companies are already operating on the continent, including Kerry Group, Guinness, ESB International and Glanbia Nutritionals.
Enterprise Ireland's Kevin Sherry told the forum that Africa has been home to eight of the world's 15 fastest-growing economies since 2000, with GDP on the continent hitting $2 trillion in 2013.
Against that backdrop, the Barclays Africa Trade Index, which measures the opportunity and openness of 31 of sub-Saharan Africa's leading economies, shows that trade between Ireland and Africa has grown by more than 43pc, to approximately €1.44bn in recent years.
According to the study, Irish trade with Nigeria grew by a substantial €200m, or 208pc, to over €450m in 2013.
Although South Africa remains Ireland's largest trading partner in Africa, with trade amounting to €500m, Irish trade with the country has reduced by 7.2pc, Barclays stated. At the same time, trade with Kenya, which ranks third in the study for market openness and opportunity, has only grown by 2.5pc.
Trade between Angola and Ireland, however, has surged a massive 781.6pc, or €175m.
Mr Roughan said Irish trade with Africa has primarily been driven by companies in sectors such as Food and Dairy, Infrastructure, Pharmaceutical and Technology.