Boosting exports from India to Iran would not only help right lopsided trade but also deepen ties between the two countries, a major Indian delegation said on Saturday at the start of a five-day visit.
"New Delhi is seeking to increase its exports to Iran and sees the increase in trade as a sign of deepening relations," Rafeeq Ahmed, president of the government-backed Federation of Indian Export Organisations, told a Tehran meeting of Iranian businessmen.
"New Delhi gives ample importance to boosting ties with Tehran," he said, according to quotes reported by Iran's official IRNA news agency.
The delegation, counting around 70 government and corporate representatives, is exploring what India sees as "huge" potential in increasing sales to Iran at a time the Islamic republic is being cut off from other markets because of ramped-up Western sanctions.
India, which buys $14 billion worth of oil from Iran per year but currently sells just $2.7 billion of goods to the Islamic republic, refuses to go along with the US-led sanctions.
With Iran having agreed to receive 45 percent of its Indian oil revenues in rupees, instead of harder-to-collect dollars, the scope for buying more Indian goods has greatly widened.
Arvind Mehta, joint secretary in the Indian commerce ministry, was quoted as saying that "high quality and cheap agricultural products, medicine and hospital services are among the fields of cooperation which Iran can benefit from its Indian partner."
The secretary general of Tehran's Chamber of Commerce, Mohammad Mehdi Rasekh, said he also saw opportunities for Indian suppliers.
"India has capabilities in the fields of food industry, medicine, metals and machinery and car parts, and in return Iran has capabilities in plastic material, polymers and chemicals, and thus cooperation in this regard can be boosted," he said.
But while India is focusing on the possible trade boost with Iran, it will also have to balance its growing partnership with the United States and maintain its good relations with Israel, a key arms supplier.
A source close to the Indian delegation said in New Delhi that the companies involved -- which were not identified by Indian officials -- were worried about potential US reprisals.
US lawmakers and pro-Israel groups have accused New Delhi of undermining American and European efforts to isolate Tehran and force it to abandon its nuclear programme.
An attack that severely injured an Israeli diplomat in New Delhi last month -- blamed by Israel on Iran -- has added further complications.
The Indian trade team is to stay in Iran until March 14.
Iran is India's second-largest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia, and while India has diversified to cut its dependence on the country in recent years, New Delhi says replacement of "all Iranian oil imports" is not "a realistic option".