Hungary becomes China's hub for economic expansion in central Europe

Hungary was the largest exporter from the central European region to China in 2015 and 2016

Hungary has managed to become one of the main hubs for China’s economic expansion in Europe, Péter Szijjártó, minister of Foreign Affiars and Trade, has said.

“When the Chinese think about the economy and Europe, then it is Hungary that mostly comes to their minds," Szijjártó said, following talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

Hungary, with one of Europe’s most competitive investment environments, geographical situation and infrastructure, has succeeded in attracting the most Chinese investment in the region, he said. Hungary was also the largest exporter from its region to China last year and this year, he added.

“This represents enormous economic growth potential,” Szijjártó said.

He said they had agreed that the two countries’ ties should be raised to the level of a strategic partnership, and this would mean the highest level of cooperation in China.

MTI reports that by next March at the latest, the tender for upgrading the Budapest-Belgrade rail line will be called, and by the end of June the project management contract should be ready to be signed, he said, adding that he had discussed the project with the head of China’s National Development and Reform Council.

“Hungary will thereby be indispensable to the export of Chinese products to western Europe,” Szijjártó said.

An agreement was made to expand Hungarian farm exports to China, as part of the foreign minister’s visit.

In the first eight months of the year, Hungarian farm-product exports to China grew by over 70 percent, and now the export of Hungarian corn and milk products can begin, he said, adding that the deal amounted to tens of millions of dollars.

Also, a deal was signed with two big Chinese banks to the tune of one billion US dollars on financing the procurement of ten new planes for low-cost carrier Wizzair “so that Wizzair can continue to operate one of the youngest fleets in Europe,” he said.

Szijjártó noted that last June Hungary was the first to sign an agreement with Beijing on implementing China’s “One Belt, One Road” strategy. Hungary is now the first central European country to hold the first joint working-group meeting on Wednesday.

The minister noted that financial ties were being strengthened with the successful issuance of a one billion yuan Hungarian state bond and Beijing’s support for Hungary’s inclusion in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Szijjártó mentioned he had held talks with the bank’s head.

In the first nine months of the year, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Hungary grew by an annual 30 percent, now that it is possible to register for a visa in 13 cities and receive a reply within 72 hours, he noted.

It was also agreed that a Chinese cultural center will open in Budapest. Hungary continues to support efforts towards European Union recognition of China as a market economy, and it urges the earliest possible investment deal between China and the bloc.

Szijjártó sought China’s support for Hungary’s bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games so that two years after Beijing’s 2022 winter event, the summer one can open in Budapest.

During his visit to China, minister Szijjártó also held talks with leading Hong Kong officials. Discussions focused around the import and export of food, quality products and wines.

Hungarian beef exports to Hong Kong can be launched now that all necessary permits are in hand, he said. An agreement on the export of lamb and rabbit meat has also been signed, he added.

Szijjártó met with Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung, HK's labor minister, and agreed to adopt a Working Holiday Scheme for up to 200 18-30 year-olds to receive short-term work permits to work in each other’s countries. The scheme could help young people train and gain work experience, he said.

The minister noted talks to boost tourism. One of the subjects discussed was the possibility of launching direct flights to Hong Kong, but further negotiations are necessary, he said.