By Faten Omar

KUWAIT: Hungarian Deputy Minister of Defense Tamás Vargha shared with Kuwait Times an upcoming milestone in Hungary's economic diplomacy as the country prepares to sign an investment protection agreement with Kuwait in the coming year. This agreement underscores Hungary's commitment to nurturing economic ties with Gulf region countries and solidifying its position as a hub for investment and trade in Central Europe.

With Hungary's strategic location within the European Union and Kuwait's substantial investment potential, Vargha, during an exclusive interview, revealed that several agreements are slated to be signed with Kuwait next year, coinciding with the remarkable 60th anniversary of their diplomatic relationship, symbolizing six decades of enduring friendship and cooperation. He emphasized that this anniversary underscores the enduring strength of diplomatic ties between the two nations and paves the way for a brighter future of collaboration. Hungary aims to sign two agreements next year, focusing on investment protection and double taxation agreements.

The deputy minister highlighted Hungary's ambition to attract Kuwaiti investors, given the range of opportunities and incentives the country offers. He emphasized Hungary's robust automotive industry, boasting the presence of major European manufacturers known for their high-quality production. He also mentioned Hungary's strategic location within Europe, its skilled workforce, and business-friendly environment, all of which make it an enticing prospect for investors seeking opportunities in Europe.

Regarding trade between both countries, Deputy Minister Vargha revealed that the total bilateral trade with Kuwait has reached approximately €30 million and is on the rise. Furthermore, he mentioned an anticipated visit by Peter Szijjarto, the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to Kuwait next year.

Regarding his visit to Kuwait, Vargha said: "We had a joint economic commissions meeting, which Hungary holds with 65 countries, and Kuwait is one of them. We typically have annual meetings to discuss economic relations, and this marks our fourth meeting with Kuwait. During my visit, I engaged with several officials, and our discussions encompassed various topics, including defense. Defense holds great significance for my country, particularly given the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which has persisted for over two years in our vicinity."

He added that Hungary has been a valued member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since its accession on March 12, 1999, marking a pivotal moment in the country's post-Cold War foreign policy. As a NATO member, Hungary actively contributes to the alliance's missions and objectives, participating in various peacekeeping operations and supporting efforts to maintain stability and security in Europe and beyond. Hungary's commitment to NATO is rooted in its recognition of the alliance's fundamental principles, including mutual defense, democratic values, and the promotion of peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region.

On a different note, Vargha disclosed that Hungary offers 20 scholarships to Kuwaiti students, allowing them to pursue degrees in various fields at Hungarian higher education institutions. He mentioned, "Hungarian universities are increasingly gaining recognition among students seeking to study abroad. The scholarship application process is set to commence in November 2023."

Regarding tourism, he highlighted Hungary's rich history, stunning architecture, thermal spas, and vibrant cultural scene, with Budapest, the capital city, serving as a major attraction for tourists due to its iconic landmarks. Vargha further stated, "To bolster the number of Kuwaiti tourists, Hungary's steadfast support for Kuwait's inclusion in the Schengen visa waiver program is a testament to the deepening ties between our two countries. This move holds the potential to boost tourism, trade, and cultural exchanges between our nations."

Regarding the number of Kuwaiti tourists visiting Hungary, he revealed that around 2,000 Kuwaitis visited his country in 2022. It's worth noting that Hungary has been actively promoting tourism, and its appeal to Middle Eastern travelers, including Kuwaitis, has been steadily increasing due to its unique blend of history, culture and natural beauty. Additionally, discussions are underway to establish direct flights to further enhance the influx of Kuwaiti tourists, not only for regular tourism but also for medical tourism.

Hungarian Deputy Minister of Defense Tamás Vargha speaks with Kuwait Times' Faten Omar.