Marc Coleman: Let's remind wealthy Brazil what a pal it has in Ireland
Ethnic Irishmen freed Latin American giant from colonial rule, so it's time to call in favour.
Let's start this column with a sports quiz. Which country will host the Olympic Games in 2016 and the World Cup next year? If you still don't know, here are some economic clues (this is an economics column, after all). It's the sixth biggest economy in the world and, like Ireland, its population has grown by a quarter since the mid-Nineties and stands at 195 million. It is, of course, Brazil. And just as the Vatican is thinking of electing a Latino Pope, it's also time for us to start thinking a lot more about the huge potential of South America for our economy.
The Irish Exporters Association (IEA) did just that last week. With a round-table discussion of Irish companies present in the region, it highlighted the country's massive potential: with the fifth biggest population in the world – and by 2030 it will have grown by another 100 million – and a per capita income already ahead of India and China, 47pc of Brazil's current population (nearly 100 million) is middle-class and crying out for what we want to export. As John O'Brien of the S3 group put it, Brazil is "a huge market and a great opportunity for Irish business".
The IEA's John Whelan put a figure on the size of that market: a staggering $2.2 trillion. But Brazil is also a gateway to South America, with a combined population of over 400 million. And it's a part of the world that owes much to Ireland: our Catholic missionaries educated and cared for its poor. From O'Higgins to John Browne, ethnically Irish leaders freed South American regions from colonial rule. Sometimes the past can be made to work for the future. Now is one of those times.