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Progress Made, but More Needed as ‘Business Meets Government’

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary and the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency organized their third “Business Meets Government Summit” on September 28, with the aim yet again of finding concrete ways to improve education, taxation, the regulatory environment and innovation. 

The primary objective of the conference has always been to develop a coherent national strategy to make Hungary a more competitive place to invest in. In order to achieve that, an annual cycle of ongoing consultation takes place between AmCham and various government bodies, with the “Business Meets Government Summit” of key importance. 

AmCham president Farkas Bársony stressed that considerable progress has been made since regular, structured dialogue started with the government; cutting the corporate income tax to 9%, for example, was a game changer.

Other achievements include improving dual education, providing R&D incentives and putting an increased focus on language training. Such measures must have contributed to the fact that Hungary has advanced nine places in the World Economic Forum’s latest annual global competitiveness ranking, released a few days before the summit.

“There is still a lot to do concerning, among others, education reform, efficiency improvements and the need to have more investments of higher added value,” Bársony said. “We need to carry the momentum and identify the main priorities for the upcoming year.”

Thriving Relations 

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said he he had met with 31 companies on his most recent visit to New York City, many of which shared plans to invest more in Hungary. “The U.S. is a natural and strategic ally of ours, and the American and the Hungarian government both focus on pragmatism,” Szijjártó said. It is the core responsibility of every state to ensure security for people and investments, he noted. “And I can assure you that the safety of American investments is fully guaranteed here.”

The United States has become the No. 1 export destination for Hungary outside the EU, the minister said. “Total trade grew to USD 5.5 billion; the number of American companies operating here has surpassed the 1,700 mark, and they now employ more than 100,000.”

New direct flights connecting Budapest to American cities are set to further strengthen relations. Polish airline LOT will launch four flights per week to New York and will fly twice a week to Chicago from May 2018, while American Airlines will start operating flights between Budapest and Philadelphia.

Central European cooperation should also be deepened in the future, for which Hungary’s current V4 presidency provides a great opportunity. “We will do our best to keep this unity so that our voice can be heard much more loudly at the EU level,” Szijjártó said, albeit he noted that Franco-German cooperation will continue to determine the development of the Union.

Economic activity is underlined by record high employment figures and 700,000 jobs created since 2010, the minister said. But further growth may be hampered by the chronic labor shortage, which should be addressed using various tools. Ukrainian workers are now enjoying an accelerated work permit procedure, unemployed people have access to a growing amount of training, and companies are also financially rewarded for carrying out in-house training.

Even more desirable would be to attract those young skilled Hungarians back that left the country in the recent past. Szijjártó mentioned the example of the establishment of the new BlackRock SSC in Budapest that generated high interest among emigrants. “This could be the best repatriation program, indeed: the more big brands we can convince to set up shop here, the more young Hungarians will return.”