Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Szijjarto, in an interview with Daily Mirror, said his country looked forward to deepening ties with Sri Lanka for cooperation in different fields. He said Sri Lanka and Hungary had many more factors in common than they had thought. The Minister was in Sri Lanka last week to attend an export forum. Hungary is a landlocked Central European country with a rich economy. Referring to Sri Lanka’s war on terrorism, he said Hungary would never criticize the law in this regard. He shared the following views with us:
Q How do you look forward to your relationship with Sri Lanka?
Actually, we have many more things in common than we think. There are free areas of economy on which we could cooperate. The number one is water management. There are two water works, actually, that have been built by Hungarians currently. And, we are in a level of preparedness of 82 to 85% in work of US $ 51 million. These are constructed by Hungarians and financed by EXIM Bank of Hungary. It has been agreed with my colleagues. The Foreign Affairs Minister and the Minister of Trade that we would continue with this programme. Hungary is ready to give tight aid credit for water management projects. Hungarian companies are ready to construct water reserves -- Labugama and Kalatuwava. We have been constructing them. The water management is number one in the list.
Number two is that we have looked at your water networks -- Colombo, Unawatuna and Eheliyagoda. The water network of these areas will be modernized and operated by Hungarians. Third is the agriculture and food industry. There, we are in an absolutely unique situation in Europe because we have put our country in the foremost position when it comes to agriculture. The Hungarian agriculture is free of GMP. Whatever you buy from Hungary is not only delicious but also healthy.
Q Apart for that, how do you intend to increase bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Hungary?
Well, all trade varies in kind. Whenever there are Hungarian deliveries in the framework of tight aid credit, then it is high. When tight aid credit programme concludes, it sinks again. We have to look into that in a long-term and feasible basis. That is why we launched the US $ 58.8 million of credit line by the Hungarian EXIM Bank, which is there to facilitate Hungary-Sri Lanka Economic and Trade Cooperation.
Q As a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), how does Hungary look at the human rights issues of Sri Lanka?
We are a country which does not criticize anyone on human rights or democracy issues, because we consider it as interference. We do not interfere in your internal affairs. What we say is that it is only the Sri Lankan people who have the authority to make a decision about the political system of Sri Lanka, the government and the future of the country. We do not interfere. We do not like those countries who intend to interfere in our internal affairs either.
"What we say is that it is only the Sri Lankan people who have the authority to make a decision about the political system of Sri Lanka, the government and the future of the country"
Q How do you see the current political climate in Sri Lanka after the change of government?
What I see are huge efforts to modernize this country politically and economically. We are crossing fingers for the success of overcoming tension and challenges because of the war. We know we have come through political transition 25 years ago. We know it is full of challenges. We had a war in our neighbourhood. It affected us very much. So, we understand the wounds and pains of the people.
It is totally understandable. That is why, we hope you can come to peace. We actually respect the efforts of the government or governing coalition. We respect that they can work together. We respect that you have entered into a phase of preparing a new Constitution. We too adopted a new Constitution in 2011 as well. Hungary is the last country, which had been unable to adopt a new Constitution since the fall of communism. We totally respect it.
Q Sri Lanka has restarted negotiations with European Union to secure the GSP Plus Trade Facility. How helpful it will be to Hungary?
Hungary is committed to Free Trade Agreements and to build economic strategic cooperation agreements with faraway parts of our world. That is why, we are actually supportive of quickly providing you with the GSP Plus. Our position is that it is not only in the interests of Sri Lanka but also in the interest of Europe as well. Europe is deeply stuck in its own problems because of historical challenges we are faced with. But, we think that Europe should be working on external friendship and alliances much more than so far.
Then, it would be our interest as well to have GSP Plus provided to Sri Lanka. We think we shouldn’t wait for another year. Currently, the European Commission says it would. But we think it would take a couple of months. We are supportive of lifting the ban on fisheries. We absolutely support to further deepen bilateral investment dialogue between the EU and Sri Lanka. We are among those EU member countries supportive of such economic cooperation beyond the borders of EU.
Q How does Brexit affect EU from your point of view?
I think Brexit is a huge economic and political loss for the EU. The economic loss is mainly because of the second largest economy leaving the integration.
Unfortunately, with the UK leaving the EU, we will lose a very pragmatic voice from our discussion. So I think Brexit should open eyes, Brexit happened because EU was not flexible with working with the rest of the world.
"We absolutely support to further deepen bilateral investment dialogue between the EU and Sri Lanka. We are among those EU member countries supportive of such economic cooperation beyond the borders of EU"
Q Europe is hit by terrorism. What is the kind of lesson you can learn from Sri Lanka, as a country that dealt with the problem?
Well, Europe used to be a safe continent. With the latest crisis, it is not any more the case. But, Hungary remains at the same level. We have made it impossible for illegal migrants to enter Hungary. We are very tough on people entering our territory.
Hungary remains a safe place. In our case, the fight against terror must be the number one in our agenda. I am aware that Sri Lanka was successful in this regard.
You have to be convinced that you will never be criticised by us on your law on terror. We just passed a law in Parliament on fighting against terror. We have been subjected to much criticism for it. But, we have to do it because our number one priority should be to guarantee that the people of the country are safe.
Q Sri Lanka is strategically located in the Indian Ocean region. How does Hungary plan to harness its potential to secure other markets in the region; be it India and China?
Definitely, Hungary is the first country in Europe to sign a cooperation agreement with the Chinese Government on the one route, one belt initiative. Yours has been a key island in the Indian ocean on the maritime silk route.
Plus, it is of great importance how we can facilitate your logistics and geographic location. We look at you as a very important logistic point of the one-route, one