German exports to Iran expected to double after sanctions lifted

BERLIN (Reuters) - German industry expects a steep rise in exports to Iran following the lifting of international sanctions, and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Sunday he would seek to drum up trade on visit Tehran in early May.

Iran ended years of economic isolation when world powers lifted the crippling sanctions against the Islamic Republic on Saturday in return for Tehran complying with a deal to curb its nuclear ambitions.

“That was faster than expected,” said Reinhold Festge, head of German engineering trade group VDMA, adding that now diplomats had delivered it was the turn of companies and banks to seize the new opportunity.

For decades before sanctions were imposed, Germany was Iran’s biggest trading partner. The gap in Iranian imports from Germany and other Western countries has largely been filled by Chinese, Korean and Middle Eastern competitors.

Germany’s Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) said it expected exports to Iran to double to 5 billion euros ($5.5 billion) in the coming years and reach twice that figure in the long term.

This could compensate, at least partially, for waning demand for German goods from China, Russia and other emerging markets.

“German companies have lost important market share in Iran. We must revive German-Iranian ties as quickly as possible,” DIHK head Volker Treier said.

Economy Minister Gabriel, who led the first top level German government visit to Tehran in 13 years in July, will head back to Iran in early May to co-chair an economic conference with his counterpart Ali Tayyebnia.

The revival of trade will take some time, but the lifting of sanctions provide a sound basis for this, Gabriel said in a statement on Sunday. “This gives us the opportunity to open a new chapter in German-Iranian trade ties,” he said.

German machinery, auto, chemicals, healthcare and renewable energy firms are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of the opening up of the Iranian market.

The VDMA engineering trade group plans to open an office in Tehran in the first half of this year to help companies sell machinery in Iran.

Tehran has already announced plans to buy 114 civil aircraft from Franco-German manufacturer Airbus AIR.PA - a deal possibly worth more than $10 billion at catalog prices.

Last week, Siemens SIEGn.DE signed deals to work on Iran's railway infrastructure while Daimler DAIGn.DE announced plans for its commercial vehicle division to return to Iran.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber,