Revisiting the concept of a Eurasian free trade area is in the interests of Hungary and Europe as a whole, the foreign minister said in Bratislava. Péter Szijjártó participated in a meeting focusing on trade, energy affairs and security issues attended by the foreign ministers of the Visegrad Group, the Eastern Partnership countries and Romania, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency. Szijjártó said it was “clearly in Europe’s interest” to develop close cooperation with the most important global economic players, adding this meant that the continent should revisit the idea of establishing a Eurasian free trade area which would also serve Hungary’s economic interests.
Hungary has annual trade turnover of 1,300 billion forints (EUR 4bn) with the six countries of the Eastern Partnership, Szijjártó said, adding that the fewer bureaucratic obstacles they faced the better. He said the concept of a European free trade area had emerged years ago, adding that “with China’s Belt and Road initiative setting the pace of changes in the global economy” it was time for the idea to be put back on to the agenda.
On the subject of the Belt and Road initiative, Szijjártó said it would bring with it fundamental infrastructural developments aimed at tightening economic cooperation. “Overall, both free trade and tightening Eurasian economic cooperation are in our interest,” the minister said.
Of the Eastern Partnership countries, Hungary is in the middle of implementing free trade agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and has proposed signing trade deals with Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well, he said.
The meeting also covered energy cooperation. On this subject, Szijjártó said it was in Hungary’s interest for Azerbaijan to deliver enough gas to southeastern Europe via the southern gas corridor so that it also reaches central Europe. “We’re considering multiple scenarios when it comes to the diversification of Hungary’s gas supplies, but unfortunately one solution is taking even longer than the other,” Szijjártó said. “So it is important to keep [the option of importing] Azeri gas among the possible scenarios.” He urged the EU to provide every means of support for the development of the southern gas corridor.