Szijjarto: Boosting Southeast Asia ties to be key goal of Hungary EU presidency

One important goal of Hungary’s upcoming European Union presidency will be to further intensify cooperation with Southeast Asia, Peter Szijjarto, the minister of foreign affairs and trade, said in Brunei on Thursday.

Szijjarto noted the timeliness of the first ever visit by a Hungarian foreign minister to the sultanate of Brunei given that Hungary is next in line to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

Hungary’s government intends to restart free trade talks with the region’s countries during its presidency, Szijjarto said, according to a ministry statement.

He said the EU was set to benefit significantly from forging closer ties with Southeast Asia, arguing that the bloc needed fresh impetus to stop its decline caused by the war in Ukraine, its “unreasonable economic measures” and the practice of “politicising and ideologising important issues”.

“If we’re looking for economic momentum, economic growth or new dynamism, we’ll definitely find it here in Southeast Asia,” Szijjarto said. “The countries here have demonstrated exceptional economic growth in recent years.”

The minister noted that with Brunei set to become the ASEAN’s coordinator for dialogue with the EU, Hungary and Brunei will be the countries responsible for coordinating EU-ASEAN cooperation in the coming period.

He said Hungary plans to restart talks on an EU-ASEAN free trade deal as well as on a cooperation agreement between the EU and Brunei.

The free trade agreement, he said, would be in the interest of both Europe and Hungary, arguing that Hungary’s products and services were competitive on the international market.

“Our interests therefore lie in minimising barriers to trade … and in getting Hungarian goods and services onto the Southeast Asian markets,” Szijjarto said.

He also said an EU-Brunei cooperation pact would be crucial after talks on such a deal broke off some ten years ago.

“I think the European Union made a big mistake by failing to recognise the potential stemming from the growth of the Southeast Asian region,” he said.

Meanwhile, Szijjarto said that because cooperation began with interpersonal relations, Hungary and Brunei had signed an agreement under which Hungary will offer university scholarships to five Bruneian students each year.

Also, the two countries have started talks on Brunei’s use of Hungarian technologies in making its oil production more efficient and eco-friendly, the minister said.

On another subject, Szijjarto said that though Brunei was far away from Ukraine, the negative effects of the war in Hungary’s north-eastern neighbour had pushed energy prices up in the Southeast Asian country as well, and Brunei’s interests also lay in bringing an end to the conflict.

“So we were in agreement with the representatives of Brunei’s government and even the sultan himself on the need to strive for a peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine … as the solution lies not on the battlefield but at the negotiating table,” he said.

Szijjarto said Hungary and Brunei were part of the “global pro-peace majority” with pro-peace leaders who agreed that sanctions were ineffective, that “politicising international organisations” was harmful and that the mention of nuclear weapons was dangerous.

Szijjarto on Thursday met Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his Bruneian counterpart in Bandar Seri Begawan.

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