The Swiss-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce (Swisscham) celebrated the 25th anniversary of its foundation last year in a limited way due to the pandemic restrictions. A lot of anniversary-related and other events had to be canceled or postponed but the chamber adapted to the circumstances to serve its members and partners.
Swisscham Director Júlia Lipovecz tells Diplomacy&Trade that while, unfortunately, many planned events had to be canceled, they are proud to have been able to organize a special tree-planting event to celebrate the anniversary: 25 trees were planted in the Népliget park (in Budapest’s District IX) with support from Swisscham members. “We managed organize this outdoor event but, on the other hand, we were not able to hold the anniversary gala we had long planned and it was also the case with the Swiss Business Day planned for the fall of 2020. These ideas were suspended as we saw that we would not be able to hold them this year, either. During the pandemic period, we mainly operated online. However, we managed to have a reception at the end of September 2020 that sort of made up for the gala with many of us gathering for a little celebration and saying farewell to Ambassador Burkhard. The online programs included several thematic events every month – something that goes on for the moment, the latest one on the current prospects of the Swiss economy but these, of course, cannot replace our main profile, that is, networking.”
Presenting the region to Swiss investors
The President of Swisscham, Dr. István Béres says on the chamber’s website that “Always looking for new ways, our Chamber is a bridge between Hungarian and Swiss businesses. It is a pleasure to serve this dynamic, innovative community.” He explains to Diplomacy&Trade that “we have created closer cooperation with the Swiss chambers operating in the other Visegrád Four (V4) countries, that is, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, in order to establish a continuous, live connection with them and have jointly carried out programs. This system of relations is very beneficial for Swiss investors because we are able to present ourselves on a regional level for possible investments. This is important because Swiss investors are in competition with those from other parts of the world. The first fruit of this joint effort is already here as a Swiss investor examined all the V4 countries and decided to set up a company in Hungary and start production here.”
In conjunction with this, Swisscham has very close cooperation with Switzerland Global Enterprise, which is in charge of supporting Swiss private ventures. “The very big advantage of this new network is that there is now an organization in Switzerland that is collecting investment enquiries that are coming into Eastern Europe. When someone comes to them, they are not only directed to the country where the request is made, but they send it to all V4 countries as soon as they receive it. Poland being four times the size of us and a little bit of a star, most of the applications went there but now, we get this information automatically – via the Warsaw-based V4 Swiss Business Hub, one of the regional hubs of Switzerland Global Enterprise around the world,” he adds.
Growing interest about the Hungarian market
As Júlia Lipovecz points out, more and more Swiss companies are contacting Swisscham, asking for information about the Hungarian market. “Earlier, we had a lot of Hungarian companies asking about the Swiss market. That is less common now, it's more the Swiss companies that come in with this or that kind of question. This means that we are somehow on their radar, so I am confident that this will continue to develop and bring investors. Therefore, we have started to focus more and more on that and on individual enquiries from members. If there was something about the situation during the pandemic that they saw that we could help with, we got involved – mainly individual enquiries.”
Dr. István Béres finds it important to mention that “besides our outstanding relations to the Swiss Embassy in Hungary we have an increasingly close and effective relationship with the Hungarian Embassy in Bern too. This helps us in the sense that if a Hungarian company wants to start some kind of activity in Switzerland, we can immediately establish contact with the economic affairs division of the Embassy. The bridge has two pillars: we support the Swiss in Hungary and we support the Hungarians in Switzerland.”
No major pandemic problems at Swiss firms in Hungary
The Swisscham leaders agree that the chamber’s member companies reacted very quickly to the pandemic conditions. Mentioning an example, Dr. István Béres highlights that in one very large Swiss company, a very high-level factory visit was scheduled from the Swiss headquarters to see the new developments in their Hungarian factory. “In the end, it was all done online. It was not only a zoom meeting but the whole factory tour was done on the scheduled date without any delay – obviously, with more cameras, more movement, but it was done. In general, production was running smoothly everywhere, health and safety measures were introduced immediately in all factories of our member firms, usually much stricter than the general measures, but it worked.”
Swiss-Hungarian business relations have not stopped over the past year, either. “An example of this was achieved in our chamber when a Swiss company (Roche) opened its Center for European Pharmacovigilance (PV HUB) in Hungary. The various reports are received here, analyzed, evaluated and used to prepare reports for the development center,” he adds.
Back to events of physical presence
As regards future plans at Swisscham, Júlia Lipovecz notes that “as far as the next Swiss Business Day is concerned, we would like to organize it next year, probably in the fall, as there are parliamentary elections in the spring. After the online conference on the outlook for the Swiss economy in September, we will have a reception at Buda Castle for members and other interested parties, bringing us back from the online space to the physical reality. We had a conference on e-governance for the first time in June in an online format and we would like to organize a live conference on this topic later this year in the framework of the Netzwerk Digital initiative, which we have set up together with the Austrian and German Chambers of Commerce in Budapest.”
Dr. István Béres adds that in addition to its usual activities, there are two areas Swisscham focuses on. “One is digitalization, which is where this Netzwerk Digital e-governance online and live events fit in. The other topic is health, which we also started two years ago and we plan to make it a regular feature. We are preparing an event for November, which will focus on Healthcare, the recovery from the crisis, but more importantly, on the new opportunities for healthcare created by this pandemic and the potential of the lessons learned in the economy during the epidemic. This will be the focus of a full day event with speakers from Hungary and Switzerland in partnership with the Embassy of Switzerland and some main companies in this field.”
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