Hungary and India may have figured relatively low on each other's economic and strategic radar till now, but the Hungarian side is hoping the forthcoming visit to New Delhi by its Prime Minister Victor Orban will help reset the bilateral relationship and revitalise trade and investments.
Speaking about the visit, Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs Janos Martonyi recently said in an exclusive interview to The Hindu that Mr. Orban's visit later this year should be seen as a part of Hungary's new foreign policy of “going global”.
“In the last 20 years, Hungary was absorbed by the region; our basic objective was to integrate with the Western alliance… now it is time to look beyond our regional borders,” said Mr. Martonyi.
Mr. Orban is expected to visit New Delhi, with a message that his country is ready to forge alliances with a country it shares “deep rooted cultural ties” with.
Historically, Hungary and India have enjoyed close and friendly relations since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1948. The Hungarian people remember India's role in the 1956 Uprising in their country; how India's intervention with the then Soviet Union saved the life of Dr. Arpad Goncz who subsequently served as President of Hungary from 1990 to 2000.
The visit, the dates of which are yet to be finalised, will come at a time when India and the European Union, of which Hungary is a member since 2004, are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement. And Hungary, keen to tap the “growing Indian market”, is only too happy to cooperate.
Mr. Martonyi said if India were to open its market for Hungarian wines, it would give a tremendous boost to the industry.
The Hungarian exports have hitherto been confined to high technology, industrial products, automobiles, telecom and IT, but Mr. Orban's government is keen for developing exports in agricultural and food products and services, too.
India, Mr. Martonyi explained, holds promise as a potential market for Hungarian goods and services. “Contacts [are] being intensified and we hope in the next one or two years the figures of trade and investment will be higher,” he noted, adding that Prime Minister Orban's visit will be preceded by that of the Speaker of Hungarian Parliament, László Kövér.
Indian companies have invested $1.3 billion in Hungary, but there is scope for more.
“This is also the purpose of the high-level visits, which are now in preparation, to attract more Indians to come to Hungary. We have a fairly central position in this part of Europe and we have a well developed structure and [we] are economically stable. Despite all the rumours in the media, we are one of a few European countries where deficit is under 3 per cent,” he pointed out.
Eager to engage more with India on a bilateral level, Mr Martonyi said: “Hungary is in a new phase and has a new approach; it has a new priority for foreign policy. In the present stage of trade and investment, India now has tremendous potential. Trade should be much more, given the size of India and the export potential and capacity of Hungary”.
The Minister said Hungary is keenly watching the ongoing negotiations between the European Union and India on the FTA, and wants the negotiations to be completed soon.
“Given the fact that India is one of the most important strategic partners of the EU, we think that this could be a very welcome development, if the negotiations could be completed and signed and ratified. EU-India relationship is more complex. India is the largest democracy in the world ... we have fundamental, global interests in common, like security and many other areas. Hungary is interested in the early conclusion of the negotiations, because we believe India's market would give us tremendous possibilities. We want to see how far and to what extent India will be willing to open its market for services.”
The Minister said a scholarship exclusively for youngsters from “developing countries” would soon be announced and he expressed the hope that it would benefit Indian as well as Asian students.
Hungary was also keen to increase tourism between the two countries.
On India's claim to a permanent seat in the Security Council, Mr. Martonyi said: “We have always supported India for the permanent seat in the UN Security Council. We have been advocating this for years. We know is not easy, given the complexity of the ambition around the world, but we just think this will be fair. It is very simple; you can't exclude from the seat 1.3 billion people.”