PM reaches Berlin; trade and investment top agenda

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, accompanied by a high-level delegation that includes five cabinet ministers, arrived Berlin Wednesday on a three-day official visit during which bilateral trade and investment and cooperation in education, science and technology, and renewable energy would fugure high on the agenda at the inter-governmental talks that kick off Thursday.

"I intend to seek greater trade and investment ties with Germany as we continue to take steps to boost domestic investments, attract foreign investors and spur the economy back to its long term growth potential of 8 percent," said the prime minister. 

"Germany is also a key partner for us in areas like infrastructure, manufacturing, science and technology, higher education, vocational training and clean and renewable energy. We expect to sign a number of agreements and Memorandums of Understanding in these areas," he said in a statement just before leaving New Delhi.

India was one of the first countries to recognize the Federal Republic of Germany and had strongly supported German Reunification in 1990. Both countries agree on several policy areas of international diplomacy. 

The two nations are also seeking a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council and cooperating with each other in the G-20 process.

The prime minister will co-chair the second round of inter-governmental consultations with Chancellor Angela Merkel and witness the signing of a series of accords aimed at driving bilateral cooperation in the fileds of education, science and technology, and renewable energy.

Under the agreements to be inked, Germany will provide India a soft loan of 1 billion euros (Rs 71 billion) for strengthening the transmission system of renewable energy in several states. 

The two countries will also put together seven million euros in the next four years towards joint research in education under another pact. 

The two sides will try to reach agreement on a India-EU free trade agreement, talks on which going on since 2007.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said his country supported an India-EU FTA, which would remove most tariff and non-tariff barriers. "We believe that a free trade agreement between the EU and India would point the way toward more growth and prosperity" in both countries, Westerwelle said as he met External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid ahead of dinner talks between Manmohan Singh and Angela Merkel.

In the first round of consultations in May 2011, the two sides had agreed to increase their bilateral trade from 15 billion to 20 billion euros by the end of 2012. At the end of 2011, the volume had crossed 18 billion euros. 

Germany is now India's seventh most important exporter. Demand for German machines, which make up 30 percent of all such deliveries, technology have remained high. In return, India supplies Germany with textiles, leather, food and increasingly with chemical goods, metal products and also with electrotechnology.

The prime minister is accompanied by External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma, Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah, Human Resource Development Minister M.M. Pallam Raju, and Science and Technology Minister S. Jaipal Reddy.

On his arrival at the Tegel Military Airport, the prime minister was given a red carpet welcome. The chief of protocol in the German foreign ministry, Jorgen Christian Mertens, received him, his wife Gursharan Kaur, and the accompanying delegation at the airport.

This is Manmohan Singh's second visit to Germany in three years. He last visited Germany in December 2010.