Feb 23, 2016 (LBO) - A 30-member Iranian delegation arrived in Sri Lanka headed by its Energy Minister Hamid Chitchian. The delegation consists of members from government, the Iranian private sector and a trade chamber. “In our new era, we want closer cooperation with Sri Lanka,” Chitchian said according to a Ministry of Industry and Commerce statement. The two countries will commence the 11th Joint Commission for Economic Co-operation (JCEC) sessions on Wednesday. Sri Lanka will look for ways to increase exports to Iran while the Iranian team wants to renew a multi-tiered trade cooperation approach with Sri Lanka, the statement said. Among the Iranian firms in the delegation are MAPNA (railroads and locomotive supplier), FARAB (heavy infrastucture including reservoirs), SUNIR (electrification and mega scale engineering projects) as well as Iran’s biggest Chamber, Iranian Industry, Mines & Trade Chamber. Several reps in the delegation are from Iran's Ministry of Petroleum, and the state owned petroleum giant the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). The delegation, with Iranian Ambassador in Colombo Mohammed Zaeri Amirani is scheduled to visit the Uma Oya project funded by Export Development Bank of Iran. According to the Department of Commerce, bilateral Trade between the two countries reached 1.6 billion dollars in 2011 and in 2012 two-way trade totaled 857.81 million dollars. "Trade declined thereafter due to unconditional decrease of imports from Iran and as a result, last year’s total bilateral trade stood at $170 Mn." Sri Lanka used to import its petroleum requirements from Iran till 2012 (50000 barrels a year), and after the sanctions took effect in 2012, total trade declined to 660 Mn dollars from 2011’s 1.4 billion dollars. UN sanctions on Iran were lifted in January in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme. Minister Bathiudeen, who welcomed the delegation as the Minister of Commerce of Sri Lanka, said: “The government of Sri Lanka lead by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe warmly welcomes you. We are ready to re-commence our trade with post-sanctions Iran." "This is a new beginning. I visited Iran twice during the time of sanctions. Despite sanctions Iranians supported Sri Lanka during its war and we are thankful to the people of Iran. We warmly welcome the official delegation from Tehran for this year’s Joint Commission Talks here”. Iranian Minister Chitchian said: “Post-sanctions Iran is transparent and ready to do business with the world. In our new era, we want closer cooperation with Sri Lanka. During the coming days, we are looking to meet with several government Ministers as well.” Last year’s top Lankan exports to Iran were mainly tea, coconuts and paper boxes. Imports from Iran were electrical insulators, screws/bolts/nuts, structured parts, pumps for liquid, earth moving machinery and dates.