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Opinions & Interviews

22 Feb 2017

Ambassador: Hungary appreciates Belarus’ openness, drive towards closer relations

Ambassador: Hungary appreciates Belarus’ openness, drive towards closer relations

Belarus and Hungary have marked the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. In an interview with BelTA, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Hungary Alexander Khainovsky speaks about the milestones of the bilateral relations over the past quarter of a century, the key cooperation areas, and how the Hungarians received the news about the launch of the five-day visa-free travel in Belarus.

Mr Khainovsky, could you please tell us about what Belarus and Hungary have achieved over the 25 years of diplomatic relations?

Over a quarter of a century, our countries have built a solid foundation of the bilateral relations based on the principles of partnership and mutual respect. A modern legal framework has been developed. The two countries have opened diplomatic missions and they operate successfully.

In 2015 and 2016, the countries exchanged visits of the heads of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs. The ministries maintain a regular and open dialogue. Hungary holds a consistent and principled position with regard to the normalization of the relations between Belarus and the European Union.

I would like to emphasize that the Belarusian and Hungarian heads of state and foreign ministers exchanged greetings on the 25th anniversary of the diplomatic relations, which attests to the friendly nature of our relations.

There are interparliamentary friendship groups in our national parliaments. The Belarusian and Hungarian languages are taught in our countries. Several years ago, we launched a student exchange program.

Hungary holds a firm position among Belarus’ top thirty trading partners. For Hungary, we are the fourth biggest market in the former Soviet space after Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. The bilateral trade has been maintained at the level of $220-250 million for the past several years. We have an intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation that meets annually. We also maintain dialogue in agriculture, pharmaceutical industry, construction, science and technology, and tourism.

Lending and finance represent an important component of our cooperation. The Hungarian Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) has opened a credit line for the implementation of joint projects. The meetings of the intergovernmental commissions are usually attended by representatives of the business community. Besides, we hold business forums, business matchmaking events. Such events are organized by the chambers of commerce and industry of the two countries.

Apart from that, we are gradually strengthening the ties between the regions and the capital cities. The Belarusian air carrier Belavia has been operating a direct service between Minsk and Budapest since 2013.

Nevertheless, the bilateral trade declined in 2016…

That was a trend that Belarus saw in the trade with the European Union in general last year. As for Hungary, Belarus saw a decline in its major exports to the country, including potash and mineral fertilizers, acrylonitrile. Speaking about the diversification of supplies, I would like to note that the Belarusian exports to Hungary expanded by almost 20 positions over a year to reach 145 groups of commodities.

The current situation in trade and ways to rectify it are the main point of discussion at the meetings of the intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation. The commission is due to meet in Budapest this autumn.

Last year, however, we had a slight increase in the bilateral trade in services. We traditionally provide transport, computer and tourism services.

Which areas do you consider most promising for cooperation taking into account the structure and potential of the Hungarian economy?

Hungary’s economy has recently demonstrated sustainable growth. It made up 2% of GDP in 2016. The country’s foreign trade is also on the rise, with the trade surplus reaching a record high of €10 billion. Hungary, in its search for economic partners outside the European Union (which accounts for almost 80% of its trade), has been actively implementing its Opening to the East strategy, which is in our interests.

The Hungarian government has set a task of increasing the share of manufacturing industry in the GDP from the current 25% to 30% by 2020. The key sectors that will receive additional support will be green economy, car industry, pharmaceutics, processing industry, military and technical sector. These are the sectors which are on radar in Belarus as well. Our Hungarian partners and we are looking for areas of mutual interest. For instance, in pharmaceutics we are working together with the Hungarian pharmaceutical companies Richter Gedeon Co. and Egis on the localization of manufacturing and packaging pharmaceutical products in Belarus. There is a mutual interest in the joint production of buses, including electric buses. The two countries also mull over joint projects in the food industry.

We also keep an eye on the measures that the Hungarian government applies in agriculture. The country has recently implemented a program of selling agricultural lands to small and medium-sized farms. An increase in the number of land owners will entail a need for more agricultural equipment, including that of Belarus’ manufacture. Today Hungary considers setting up a plant to produce farm equipment. I think the prospects of developing cooperation with Belarusian tractor producers are good here. Belarusian tractor makers have long been holding a robust footing in the Hungarian market. Apart from that, we regularly showcase Gomselmash harvesters and Amkodor logging equipment in Hungary. The equipment attracts attention of Hungarian specialists.

Promising is the cooperation in tourism and innovations. We see big opportunities in the construction industry. For example, several construction projects, with the financial support of the Hungarian companies, are in the early stages of implementation. In addition, Hungary’s largest OTP Bank shows interest in the Belarusian market.

Arrival of the Hungarian banking capital in our country would, certainly, contribute to trade, economic and investment cooperation.

Are Hungarians well familiar with the Belarusian culture?

Culture brings people together. Therefore cultural ties will always remain the focus of our attention. We organized a great event to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in February, the Days of Belarusian Culture in Hungary. The key organizers were the Embassy, the Culture Ministry of the Republic of Belarus and the Ministry of Human Capacities of Hungary. Belarus State Dance Ensemble and the vocal group Kamerata performed at some of the most prestigious venues: Vigado Concert Hall and the Royal Palace of Godollo. The concerts were sold out. The Belarusian artists were warmly received by the audience.

By the way, we are planning a tour of the Khoroshki dance company in Budapest at the beginning of July. The company has already performed in Hungary and was warmly welcomed by the audience.

During the traditional embassy-sponsored spring events “May.by – May Meetings with Belarus” we display our music art, cinema, organize photo and art exhibitions, exhibitions of folk costumes. For example, in May of last year (when we held the tenth edition of May.by) the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music hosted a concert by the student choir of the Belarusian Academy of Music. Hungarian specialists highly appreciated the skills of our young talents and invited them to participate in a joint musical project in the future.

We also aspire to build up cooperation in humanitarian affairs. A framework intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in education, science and culture was signed in the Royal Palace of Godollo in 2009. Later, pursuant to this document, we prepared educational and cultural cooperation programs which included a list of projects and specified the organizational and financial aspects of their implementation.

Closer interpersonal contacts entail reciprocal visits of citizens. How did Hungary take the news about Belarus’ decision to launch five-day visa-free travel for citizens of 80 nations?

With great interest and optimism. We did our best to communicate this information to as many people as possible, including travel agents, business community, politicians, athletes, students and the academic community and received only positive feedback.

Belarusian openness and hospitality attract foreign visitors to the country. It is important that as many foreigners as possible come to see Belarus with their own eyes. The Hungarian partners appreciate the openness of Belarus and its steps to bring the countries closer together.

BelTA

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