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Gero Breloer, Associated Press
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, left, waves to photographers as he meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, and German Economic Minister Philipp Roesler, right, prior to a economic forum in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, June 28, 2011.

BERLIN — German and Chinese leaders on Tuesday pledged a big increase over the next few years in trade between their countries, the biggest economies of Europe and Asia, while China's premier downplayed Europe's current economic woes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed Premier Wen Jiabao and many of his ministers to Berlin, a reception that underlined Germany's hopes of deepening political and economic ties with fast-rising China.

Merkel said at a joint economic forum that Germany and China want to increase their annual bilateral trade volume to €200 billion ($284 billion) by 2015.

Trade between China and Germany totaled just over €130 billion last year, a 38.5 percent increase compared with 2009. China was the No. 7 buyer of German exports, at €53.6 billion; and it led the list of importers to Germany, which bought Chinese goods and services worth €76.5 billion.

Wen, speaking after Merkel, voiced hopes that the countries could even double their trade volume over five years.

China, which overtook Germany as the world's biggest exporter in 2009, is now Germany's third-biggest trading partner — after France and the Netherlands, and ahead of the United States.

"We both take the view that what is good can become better," Merkel said. She added that China and Germany are "ideal partners" to develop electric cars for the future, for example, and said both sides want to "deepen our investment relationship."

Germany has led growth in the 17-nation eurozone over the past year, posting an increase in output of 3.6 percent last year. It has "great opportunities for powerful growth this year" as well, Merkel said. Officials and economists say this year's growth could total 3 percent or more.

Wen, whose visit to Germany followed stops in Hungary and Britain, stressed that ties with the European Union are of strategic importance to Beijing.

"Some EU countries are currently in economic difficulties," Wen said in a reference to the debt crisis weighing on countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. "But these are of temporary character."

China, he said, is "full of confidence" in the EU's development.

Wen said China is prepared to buy more high-quality German goods but also called for Berlin to quickly grant it formal recognition as a full market economy to help remove obstacles to trade.

He said that "we are not forcing anyone into technology transfer" but urged Germany to seek a loosening of EU export restrictions which, he argued, "significantly limit the export of Germany's new technologies to China and the international competitiveness of German companies on the Chinese market."

Merkel, Wen and their ministers were meeting at the chancellery later Tuesday.