An Enterprise Ireland trade mission to South Africa is to explore the opportunities for Irish firms in a region home to 185 million people.

The three-day trade mission comprises representatives from 54 Irish companies and organisations and is being led Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister Micheal Martin.

Two way trade between Ireland and South Africa is currently worth over €500m a year. Many of the companies taking part in the trade mission are small and medium sized firms which are looking for local partners to expand operations in the region.

Speaking ahead of the trip, Minister Martin said that the 2010 World Cup in South Africa offers many opportunities for a range of Irish firms.

'Dramatic changes in the structures and operations of South Africa's ports, railways, airports and its utilities such as electricity, water and gas, offer particular opportunities for Irish companies with well established international expertise in these areas,' Mr Martin said.

Conor Fahy, Enterprise Ireland's Regional Director for Africa, said the group sees opportunities for Irish companies across many sectors including telecommunications, It, construction, banking and financial services, tourism, education and training.