HAVANA, Cuba—Germany reached out to bury old Cold War tensions with Cuba on Thursday by launching a trade visit with major companies such as Volkswagen, Siemens and Bosch.

"There were difficult times for economic and political cooperation, and now is a good time to change that," said Germany's vice-chancellor and economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel.

He spoke at the inauguration of a forum of German businesses and officials from Cuba's Communist government.

"This is the start of a very dynamic process for our bilateral economic relations," Gabriel said.

"Part of this process will surely be also to modernize our political relations."

Cuban officials presented a portfolio of investment projects they wanted to interest the German companies in, worth a total of $9 billion.

Western Germany was a rival of Communist Cuba during the Cold War. Havana was an ally of Soviet-controlled East Germany.

Relations were slow to thaw in the 1990s after the reunification of Germany.

But Germany is now Cuba's fourth-biggest trade partner in Europe. Their bilateral trade was worth $378 million in 2014.

Germany is also the second-biggest source of foreign tourists to Cuba in the world, after Canada. More than 154,000 Germans visited the island last year up to November.

Cuba's foreign trade minister, Rodrigo Malmierca, said he saw "great potential" to strengthen ties as Cuba reforms its economy.

Cuba is fast opening up its foreign relations after its historic move to restore diplomatic ties with the United States last year.

In July, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier became the first non-Communist German foreign minister to visit Cuba, where he hailed a "new era" in relations.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016