Hungary has the best diplomatic and economic relations with Serbia out of all its neighbouring countries, Péter Szijjártó, the foreign affairs and trade minister, said after a meeting of the Hungarian-Serbian mixed economic committee in Subotica (Szabadka) on Tuesday.
Serbia is also Hungary’s top economic partner in the western Balkans, Szijjártó said.
The committee discussed the upgrade of the Budapest-Belgrade railway line, the construction of a Szeged-Subotica-Baja railway line, the opening of new border-crossing points between the two countries, the expansion of economic and trade relations as well as the development and connection of Hungarian and Serbian gas pipelines.
Szijjártó, the Hungarian chair of the mixed committee, expressed the government’s appreciation for the Serbian government’s treatment of its ethnic Hungarian minority, and said Vojvodina’s Hungarian community was a binding rather than a divisive factor in the two countries’ relations.
The minister said
the two countries signed several agreements that would boost bilateral trade, including a deal to open two new border-crossing points in 2018.
Hungary and Serbia will receive 3 million euros in European Union funds to design the Szeged-Subotica-Baja railway line, Szijjártó said, adding that both sides hope that construction can get under way immediately after the plans are completed.
Both Hungary and Serbia have signed cooperation pacts with Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, under which a gas transport corridor is expected to be established by the end of 2019, which will contribute to improving energy security for both countries, the minister said. This pipeline will be able to supply gas flowing through the Turkish Stream pipeline to Hungary via Bulgaria and Serbia, Szijjártó said, adding that by 2019, infrastructure with capacity to receive 6 billion cubic metres of gas will be created on the border between Hungary and Serbia.
On the topic of trade relations, Szijjártó said that bilateral trade turnover came close to 2 billion euros last year and has grown by 32 percent over the first seven months of 2017, contributing to a 19 percent rise in Hungarian exports.
Bilateral economic ties gained further momentum from the government’s economic development programme targeting Vojvodina, Szijjártó said. As part of this scheme, the government recently signed deals to support 23 major investment projects aimed at job creation worth a total of 90 million euros.
Szijjártó welcomed that a recent acquisition has made Hungary’s OTP Bank the seventh largest player on Serbia’s banking market with a 5.7 percent market share.
Hungarian oil and gas company MOL’s investments in Serbia have reached 100 million euros,
making it the second largest player on the country’s fuel market with 55 petrol stations and a 20 percent market share.
Szijjártó said Hungarian drugmaker Richter was preparing to sign an agreement with Serbia’s health ministry to include one of their key products on the list of state-subsidised drugs.
Serbian Economy Minister Goran Knezevic said the two countries were exploring further investment opportunities, adding that Hungarian companies participate in Serbian privatisation programmes and infrastructure projects.
He said the two countries will hold a joint cabinet meeting in Hungary next month which will be attended by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.