Germany's Merkel to promote trade on India trip

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BERLIN, Oct 26 (Reuters) German Chancellor Angela Merkel aims to boost business ties with India on her first trip to the world's biggest democracy starting on Monday.

Business leaders will accompany her on her three-day visit to New Delhi and Mumbai, during which she will meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

A government official said German firms wanted to boost ties in newer areas such as environmental technology and software as well as machinery, electrical engineering and chemicals.

German-Indian trade reached about 10.5 billon euros (.1 billion) last year, with German exports to India up by more than half and Indian exports to Germany up a fifth.

''This trend reflects the very high growth potential in India,'' a German government official told reporters. ''The prospects are enormous for Germany.'' Asia's third-biggest economy has grown at an average of 8.6 per cent in the past four years.

Among the 30 executives on the trip are senior executives from European planemaker Airbus, conglomerate Siemens, rail operator Deutsche Bahn and reinsurer Munich Re.

Merkel, under fire from some business leaders for emphasising human rights at the expense of business in her relations with Russia and China, is also meeting ethnic minority groups and non-governmental organisations.

An official in the Indian Foreign Ministry said Merkel's visit would help Germany and India -- which has closer ties to former colonial power Britain -- to boost bilateral ties.

''The future looks bright,'' said the official.

Relations with Germany cooled off after India conducted nuclear tests in 1998 but have recovered due mainly to trade.

REUTERS SS AS1925

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