'Although far away geographically, Singapore and Hungary have at least one thing in common: both want growth and stability' - says the Speaker of the Parliament of Singapore, Halimah Yacob in an exclusive interview with Diplomacy&Trade.
Diplomats involved in bilateral political and economic talks are very busy these days in Hungary and Singapore. The two countries’ Heads of State, Parliamentarians, Ministers and trade representatives exchange visits frequently, preparing political agreements and encouraging business deals. Diplomacy & Trade had an exclusive opportunity to ask Halimah Yacob, the first women Speaker of the Singaporean Parliament about her resent visit to Budapest in June.
"Hungary is developing very fast, I saw tremendous changes, plenty of new and renewed buildings, friendly people and an astonishing countryside" - that is how she started her summary, referring to her last visit 15 years ago when she was a tourist in Hungary. This time she went to see Lake Balaton, the pottery manufacturing in Herend and the historic abbey of Pannonhalma. "This mini tour was an important addition to my political talks as I think politicians cannot pursue their job perfectly if they do not have direct contacts with members of local communities. I also think that apart from top level contacts, we must encourage the so called people-to-people relations too. " - she said.
Halimah Yacob had talks with several officials of the Hungarian Parliament , including Speaker László Kövér, Deputy Speakers and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She also met MP-s of the Hungary-Singapore Friendship Group, formed last year within the Hungarian Parliament. She called bilateral relations exceptionally friendly and warm. "Although Singapore and Hungary are far away from one another we have a lot of similarity in terms of the drive of the people, hard work and discipline. Leaders of both countries are committed to growth and ready to exchange experiences and that helps" - she added.
Singapore has earned a very good reputation globally;, it is considered as one of the fastest growing country in the world. Some even say Singapore could be an example for Hungary's future. On the other hand, some politicians consider Hungary as a "Potential Singapore in Central Europe, as it conducts a special political and economic course. Asked if she shares this view the Speaker emphasized: "We can learn a lot from one another and exchange experiences. Your music, and your culture are famous and the pre-school education is advanced. One thing is sure, we do not have 14 Nobel laureates as Hungary has, at least one would be perfect for us. Singapore is very centrally placed and can serve as a gateway to the other countries of Southeast Asia. That is certainly unique. We can also share our experiences on how to deal with the neighboring countries."
The Speaker acknowledged the achievements of Hungary in terms of economic growth, saying that Hungary is one of the fastest growing countries in the region and therefore the leaders of Singapore and businesspeople look at Hungary as an important gateway to other European countries and markets. "Hungary is perfectly located, has a very good infrastructure, logistic services and well trained labor force. These are exceptionally important factors and provide excellent opportunities for business."- she said.
These factors made big players from the automotive sector to come to Hungary over the last two decades. PATEC from Singapore is one of them. It is a well known manufacturer of precision metal formed components and sub-assembled components for leading automotive and electronics companies throughout the world. PATEC established a component production unit in Miskolc in 2008 and just recently announced the extension of that facility. As a result of this new investment more than 400 jobs will be created in the city.
While Hungary is waiting for more such investments from Singapore, some of the fastest growing Hungarian SMEs are very proactive in attracting venture capital and private investors based in Singapore. The Speaker recalled a recent forum organized by the newly established Hungarian Trade House Singapore (HTHS) together with the Hungarian National Trading House.
"It was a successful event, titled European Innovations from Hungary (EIH). I was informed that 12 startups could present their business plan and promote the export of Hungarian know-how. The Singaporean government is very supportive of our SMEs too. We have several institutions for that purpose, one of them is International Enterprise, which provides all sorts of vital information on a certain market or country. We have told Singaporean companies repeatedly that Hungary provides good infrastructure and incentives for investors, so it is up to them to capitalize on that." - she argued.
Activity of private Singaporean companies in Europe is determined by various international agreements, such as the EU-Singapore Friendship Agreement, approved earlier and the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) which is being ratified.The Speaker firmly believes this agreement would only help boost trade for mutual benefit. "All my partners in Hungary have expressed several times that they are very much for the acceleration of the process. Once it is finished, more investment would come to Hungary and other EU-countries" - Halimah Yacob pointed out.
Exporters of electronics, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, and processed food products will especially benefit from the completion of the FTA. EU officials reiterated that this is a comprehensive agreement, which will help boost economic growth, investment, and job creation in the EU. It will help open the door for Europe to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) market with 600 million consumers. "We are open to a broader cooperation with EU-countries and I hope this will help Singapore to keep its speed in developing" - she said, while expressing she would love to return to Hungary to know more about the country.
Halimah Yacob was elected Speaker of the Singapore Parliament on 14 January 2013. She is the ninth Speaker since the First Legislative Assembly of 1955 and Singapore’s first woman Speaker of Parliament. She has been a Member of Parliament since 2001 and one of the MPs serving the Jurong Group Representation Constituency. She previously served as the Minister of State in the Ministry of Social and Family Development. She was a Member of the Public Petitions Committee before taking the role as Chairman in the Committee of Selection, Committee of Privileges, House Committee, Public Petitions Committee and Standing Orders Committee in the 12th Parliament.
The Speaker highlighted the importance of ASEAN countries. Collectively, this region represents a market of some 600 million people, with a combined GDP of about USD 2.5 trillion and upwards of USD 1.5 trillion in trade flowing throughout the region. She also spoke about the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) which seeks to transform ASEAN into a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region, a region of equitable economic development, and a region fully integrated into the global economy.