German business leaders landed in Iran with Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel and have said they have high hopes to renew contacts. Sanctions on Iran are supposed to dwindle after last Tuesday's nuclear deal in Vienna.
Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's vice chancellor and economy minister, flew to Iran on Sunday, becoming the first top Western official to visit the country since world powers and Tehran reached a historic nuclear deal. On the three-day trip, Gabriel is scheduled to hold talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, three ministers, the head of the central bank and the chamber of commerce.
Eric Schweitzer, the president of Germany's Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK), said the visit by Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also Germany's economy minister, and a dozen German trade delegates was a "sign of encouragement" after years of market loss.
German exports to Iran sank from 4.7 billion euros to 2.1 billion euros ($5.1 to 2.3 billion) between 2010 and 2013. Foodstuffs, however, led a recovery to 2.4 billion euros over the past year.
The DIHK's foreign trade chief, Volker Trier, forecast a four-fold increase over the next four years. "A better signal is unimaginable," he added.
The potential lay in German vehicles and tools, building materials, water and waste management, energy from renewable sources and health services, the DIHK said.
Gap filled from Asia
Oil and gas-rich Iran was Germany's second-largest recipient in the 1970s, behind the United States. The gap had been filled by the Chinese, said Trier, with Iran now deriving two-thirds of its imports from Asia.
The Vienna deal reached last Tuesday between Iran and the P5+1 powers - comprising Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - aims to foil Iranian nuclear ambitions in return for a gradual removal of sanctions.
The deal prompted celebrations among Iranians who hope that sanctions will fade and their daily lives will improve.
Looking for 'starting points'
Departing Berlin for Iran with Gabriel (pictured above) in a German government Airbus A319, Schweitzer said, "German companies will now look for ways to offer starting points to old business contacts."
A DIHK statement called for the protection of transactions finalized between German and Iranian businesses in the event that sanctions were re-enacted, which could occur if Iran were to violate the term of the nuclear monitoring agreement.
A larger business conference, which would also involve the German Federation of Industry (BDI), was also planned over the next year, the DIHK said. The German news agency DPA said Sunday that entry visas for the German trade delegates were sought two weeks ago, before Tuesday's deal.
The commercial Iranian news agency Tasnim said on Sunday that event the American fast-food chain McDonalds had applied for a license to open outlets in Iran. There was no official confirmation.
Some 80 German companies are believed to currently still have subsidiaries in Iran.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Italian Development Minister Frederic Guidi also plan visits to Iran in the wake of the nuclear accord.
ipj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)