Under Belgium’s federal system, the country’s three provinces of Flanders, the Brussels Capital region and Wallonia exercise independent powers as they strive to enshrine their economic autonomy. An area where this becomes markedly obvious is trade and investment promotion, and accordingly the regions operate separate trade representation offices in Hungary to facilitate bilateral business relations.
“We operate under the umbrella of the Belgian Embassy, however, ours is an independent representation managed directly from Belgium,” says Edit Ránky, trade and investment counselor representing Wallonia, the Brussels Capital region and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Managed by Belgium’s AWEX (Wallonia Export-Investment Agency) and Brussels Invest & Export (BIE) on the Belgian side, the representation office primarily serves SMEs and micro enterprises that are export ready. Multinational companies have a corporate structure in place for expanding into new markets and they typically don’t rely on services provided by the representation, Edit Ránky tells Diplomacy&Trade.
Flourishing bilateral trade
The impressive increase in bilateral trade is testament to the thriving economic relations between Belgium and Hungary. Total trade volume between the two countries reached EUR 5.03 billion last year, with Belgian imports and exports contributing in an equal measure to the final balance. Walloon exports to Hungary amounted to EUR 324.2 million in 2018 versus EUR 246.7 a year earlier, with the region accounting for 18.6% of total Belgian exports to Hungary last year. The share of Wallonia’s contribution to Hungary bound Belgian exports soared an annual 31.4% in 2018, the second largest increase after Ireland. Trade continued to intensify in 2019 and statistics show that Belgian
exports to Hungary in the first 6 months of the year increased by 9.7% compared to the same period of 2018. “Even though the Hungarian market is saturated, there is always a possibility to enter this market with new brands, services or products. A particular project may take years sometimes, but perseverance tends to bring the expected results,” Edit Ránky notes.
About one sixth of the Walloon, Brussels and Luxembourg based companies registered with the representation office have a presence in Hungary. Most of them are clustered in or around Budapest, the economic center of the country, while others are scattered around Hungary and operate in a wide range of industries. Companies hailing from the Brussels region are typically active in banking and insurance, like Belgian banking giant KBC, which is the parent company of K&H Bank, Hungary’s second largest financial institution based on end-2018 total assets.
Schréder was the absolute pioneer among Walloon enterprises setting up operations in Hungary having entered the market before the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Tungsram-Schréder Zrt. company was founded in 1983 by the Schréder Group and two Hungarian enterprises; in the 1990s, the company became fully owned by the Belgian side. Today, the company is the largest outdoor lighting supplier in Hungary with an annual turnover exceeding EUR 10 million. It currently employs more than 200 people in its business, production, and development entities. Schréder, founded in Liége in 1907, has carried out iconic projects in Budapest, including the lighting of Andrássy Avenue, the Opera House, the Buda Castle District and two bridges connecting Pest to Buda.
In the real estate segment, Wallonia is represented by the Atenor Group and Codic, both active in the capital Budapest. Atenor, a real estate development company listed on Euronext Brussels, is the developer of the Váci Greens office complex in Budapest, one of the largest office building projects in the country. The large-scale campus-style development project lies on over 130,000 sqm and comprises exclusive A + office space in a green work environment.
It consists of six state-of-the-art buildings built in two phases in the heart of one of Budapest’s most famous business districts. The company has launched a second, four-building office complex project in Budapest called Aréna Business Campus. The project is expected to be completed in 2023. Codic’s portfolio consists of projects that combine residential, commercial and office developments. The company is responsible for centrally located developments such as the Krisztina Palace, the Green Court Residences and Office and the V 48 building on Váci Road. Carmeuse, a world reference in the production of lime and its derivatives, has a mining and production site in Hungary. The enterprise, boasting 150 years of experience in the extraction and transformation of limestone and dolomite into lime and essential derivatives, employs about 45 people in Hungary.
Perseverance and stubbornness
Companies from Wallonia, the Brussels region and Luxembourg each account for 30% of Hungary’s total trade with Belgium, Edit Ránky says, adding that with some businesses the issue of their exact origin is not crystal clear, and boundaries are sometimes blurred. “Even though some of the requests we receive fall outside my competence, my mission is to lend a helping hand to improve bilateral trade and economic relations.” She notes that the lack of French language skills in Hungary can sometimes be a barrier to fruitful cooperation, especially in segments like agriculture. “This is a job that requires a lot of perseverance, stubbornness and outstanding diplomatic skills, to make sure that the company we are trying to help is received at the proper level and its business propositions are examined in depth,” Edit Ránky says.