By Brian Rohan
BERLIN, June 25 (Reuters) - German Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg on Thursday urged firms to do more business in Iraq and Syria, describing trade with Arab countries as 'dynamic' despite the global economic crisis.
In a speech, Guttenberg underlined Germany's pledges to boost business and broaden commercial, social and cultural cooperation with oil producer Iraq, and also improve ties with Syria.
'We are trying hard to strengthen existing bridges, and here we have a great role ahead of us, going forward, in both countries,' he said upon welcoming Iraqi and Syrian delegations to a yearly German-Arab business forum.
Guttenberg's predecessor signed an investment accord with Iraq last year during the first visit by a German cabinet minister since the 2003 invasion, which Berlin did not support.
In February Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also visited Iraq, underscoring a shift in European engagement in Iraq after U.S. President Barack Obama took office and a deal was reached to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
Guttenberg stressed the economic importance the wider region of Arab countries provided for German trade at a time when Europe's largest economy is the midst of its most severe recession since World War Two.
'Even in the recent difficult months, German exports to Arab countries have increased. In the first quarter of 2009, exports rose almost 3 percent to over 6.3 billion euros ($8.8 billion).'
'Relationships are getting closer, better, and more professional and a look at the trade figures proves this dynamic development,' he added.
Organisers said hundreds more participants attended this year's forum compared to previous years. Syria was featured as a 'partner country' this year.
Syria remains under U.S. sanctions, partly because of what the United States describes as a Syrian role in helping insurgents infiltrate Iraq, but the country's international isolation has waned in recent years.
This week the U.S. government said it will send an ambassador to Syria after a four-year hiatus as Obama moves to improve ties between the two countries.
Syria's deputy prime minister for economic affairs Abdullah al-Dardari, who has linked rapprochement with the Obama administration to a lifting of sanctions, told Reuters U.S investors would be welcome in Syria.
'If the presence of an ambassador in Damascus encourages American and other firms to come to Syria, we say welcome.'
Sanctions only had a limited impact on Syria, he added.
'Overall and if you look at our growth rates and investment numbers, you can see that the overall impact was very minimal.'
(Editing by ) ($1=.7177 Euro) Keywords: GERMANY IRAQ/BUSINESS
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Germany appeals for more business in Iraq, Syria - Source
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