( dpa ) - The 73rd Green Week exhibition got underway with a flourish in Berlin Friday, with more than 50 countries flying their flags and 1,600 exhibitors utilising more than 114,00 square metres of space at the city's sprawling international trade fair grounds.
Under the motto "Hello Berlin," Switzerland is this year's Green Week Partner Country for the first time - presenting specialities from 26 cantons at a large stand near the Funkturm radio tower.
Adjacent to the Swiss effort is the impressive Italian stand which has 27 exhibiting companies from diverse parts of the country, displaying a rich assortment of meat, sausage and vegetable products, as well as wines and beers, confectionery and ice-cream.
Germany is Italy's biggest world trading partner, a fact underlined at the opening of the show as German visitors flooded into Hall 17, near the Funkturm Radio Tower, to view and taste the rich array of Italian wares displayed.
A prominent Italian exhibitor this year is the Lenzi Tartufi company, which sells its truffle products in more than 20 European cities. "Germans like truffles, even if they don't consume them everyday," said a cheerful sales assistant. "They are considered something of a delicacy."
"Besides Germany, the firm's products are also sold in Moscow and countries even further afield, including Brazil," he said.
Hans Berger, a member of the South Tirol state parliament, said its export organisation is strongly represented at Green Week. "We are here not only to present our products, but also to promote tourism in our region," he said. "Every year we have many guests from Germany who enjoy Bauern (Farming) holidays.
"It's a reason why we are always strongly represented at Green Week and have been coming here for the past 37 years," he said.
"We do a mix of advertising for our region as well actively promoting markets for our products," said Berger, explaining that South Tirol formed a German-speaking part of northern Italy that was once part of Austria.
Berger said the South Tirol enjoyed a very good position on the Berlin market. "By that I mean Berliners are traditionally loyal guests of ours and have been for many years now. For that reason it's important for us to be strongly present at the Green Week," he said.
Germany is an enormously important trading partner for Italy. "You know, we export more goods to the southern German state of Baden Wuettemberg alone than we do to the whole of China," claimed an Italian exhibitor.
He continued: "Our trade ties with Germany are very strong, which is perhaps a reason why you find some 600,000 Italians living and working in Germany today. By being present at the Green Week we make direct contact with customers."
Around 450,000 visitors are expected to attend the Green Week exhibition over the next ten days.
In a reflection of the boom in organic foods, the International Green Week this year stages its 11th Bio Market as well as featuring a hands-on farm exhibit.
The Green Week's programme also includes an international conference of agricultural ministers, followed by a technical symposium and accompanying events to be held under the overall title "Forum International Green Week Berlin."
The trend towards organic products is reflected in a series of other fairs in the agricultural and food production sectors, including the BioFach 2008, the world's leading fair for organic products, in Nuremberg from February 21 to 24.
Germans are the biggest consumers of organic products. For four years, the organics sector as a whole has enjoyed double-digit growth rates. In 2006 alone, organic products worth 4.5 billion euros (6.6 billion dollars) were consumed, a 16 per cent increase in turnover for the sector.
In farming, production, trade and services, the organics sector is now estimated to provide 160,000 jobs in Germany.