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New Dawn, New Decade, New Relationship

In its latest series, “The Dawn of the New Decade”, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hungary looks into the most important events and trends shaping the global and regional economy and geopolitics at the beginning of 2020s. At the first event, on March 4, Iain Lindsay, British Ambassador to Hungary, gave an economic overview of possible trade agreements after Brexit.

Iain Lindsay. Photos courtesy of AmCham

Following a brief overview of what has happened since the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, Lindsay talked about what to expect during the transition period as well as the type of new relationships Britain is expecting to have with other countries after the split.  

The ambassador stressed that the U.K. withdrawal agreement provides citizens with the certainty that their rights will be guaranteed going forward. Until the end of this year, Britain remains a de facto member of the European Union, and all four freedoms, including the freedom of movement and labor, will continue to apply for that period.  

“It means that if you choose to go the United Kingdom on New Year’s Eve this year, your rights are guaranteed from that point on. If, however, you miss your flight or you don’t go till the first of January of next year, you’ll be subject to a new immigration system, which is not based on geography, where you come from, but will be based on your skills, your experience, your language and abilities,” Lindsay said.

This also means that the 100,000-150,000 Hungarians currently living in Britain do not have to leave.

Nevertheless, all business should be preparing for the future. There will be additional requirements for EU businesses who export goods to the United Kingdom, including making customs declarations, he explained.  

Turning closer to home, the ambassador spoke about what Brexit means for the U.K.-Hungary relationship. The two countries have very strong links, particularly people to people at all levels, he said. Britain now has the largest Hungarian born population outside the Carpathian Basin, and is the third most popular destination for Hungarian students studying overseas.  

Some 1,500 Hungarian high school students will be traveling to the United Kingdom this summer for English language training. The country is also the biggest source of foreign tourists for Budapest. There are more flights to and from London than to any other city.  

Friendship and Cooperation

“When I think about the bilateral relations with Hungary, I think about the long history of friendship and cooperation since 1989, the mutual respect,” Lindsay said.

“Following our referendum in 2016, Hungary was the first EU member state to call for a fair settlement. And it would be fair to say that no other European member state has been as sympathetic, understanding, supportive, positive, constructive or respectful as Hungary has been and for that we are very grateful.”  

Britain’s changing relationship with the EU also offers an opportunity to strengthen bilateral relationships within Europe. “We must not miss this opportunity to build a stronger, broader and deeper relationship between the U.K. and Hungary,” the ambassador said.

There are three particular areas of mutual interest Britain is concentrating on, all with the potential to significantly benefit both countries, Lindsay said. These are areas of focus in the U.K.-Hungary joint bilateral strategy that have been agreed on with the government here.  

The first is security, where the countries share a number of common interests. The two partners will continue to work hard to enhance bilateral dialogue: the defense minister in Hungary signed a statement of intent with his British counterpart last July to broaden the existing engagement at a strategic level.  

Another main focus is the field of technology and innovation. There is also great co-operation underway in the field of education.  

Diverse Issues

“We are working together on a diverse range of issues from nuclear energy to smart cities to the future of mobility to hydrogen technology. Clean growth and technology will be in the focus over the coming years, as we look to build this cooperation still further,” the ambassador said.

The third field of cooperation, and probably the most interesting for the business community, is prosperity. Great Britain will be Hungary’s biggest non-EU trading partner: one-third of Hungary’s global trade surplus is with the United Kingdom, which is also the fifth largest foreign investor here with 40,16 million jobs across the country.  

Britain’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, is one of the biggest private sector employers in Hungary. There are a large number of British companies from other sectors including BP, Diageo, Shell, EY, PwC, etc. that are all operating in Hungary successfully. The two countries are working to further advance this relationship in particular in the field of automotive, infrastructure, clean growth and innovative technologies.  

“For example, we are working on a regional project with British embassies in Central Europe now to enhance cooperation in smart cities,” Lindsay said. The new Mayor of Budapest, Gergely Karácsony, has recently been to London to see examples of smart city solutions, he added.  

The United Kingdom will also continue to encourage the relationship between Hungarian startups and British investors. The country wishes to support R&D cooperation, providing opportunities for Hungarian companies to use the existing research infrastructure of British universities and R&D facilities.  

Britain is a go-to technology partner, and is not only interestedin selling technology and engineering skills but is also about working together with Hungarian partners to help develop intellectual property, Lindsay noted.  

Leaving the European Union is an opportunity to show what “global Britain” means, the ambassador said. “There is a lot to be excited about in our relationship with the wider world, the EU and Hungary. I see in this region a huge amount of ambition and potential.”  

Turning back to Hungary, the ambassador said that both he and his successor, due here in August, are determined to expand bilateral business.  

N.B. The second event in the AmCham series with U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David B. Cornstein, originally due on March 23, has been postponed.