Hungary may not come to mind immediately when it comes to ASEAN – Europe ties, but Budapest has assured the Southeast Asian grouping that as an active leading member of Central Europe region, Hungary wants to deepen its connection with ASEAN and East Asia. With its huge potential in infrastructure, manufacturing, and the purchasing power of a fast growing middle class, Hungary should certainly look east, and tap the opportunities quickly.

This is the message which emerged after ASEAN Secretary-General, Dr Surin Pitsuwan met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktoa Orban, and Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi.

The historic visit by Dr Surin and the discussions with the Hungarian leaders on 22 August, saw the two sides explore possible areas of collaboration and cooperation. These include expanding trade, exchanging information and experiences on sustainable development, investment, tourism, as well as cultural and education exchange.

In his speech to the Annual Meeting of Hungarian Ambassadors, Prime Minister Orban said, “Hungary is committed to promote closer cooperation with ASEAN countries, and with the entire countries in the East Asia where economic growth, dynamism and investment opportunity are very dynamic and apparent to all of us.”

He further explained that Hungary has always been looking out for new investment opportunities, new markets, as well as new economic and commercial opportunities with the rest of the world.

“ASEAN and East Asia represent a growing market, a new market for Hungarian product, services, education, tourism and knowledge product,” said the Prime Minister.

On ASEAN’s part, Dr Surin pointed out that Hungary’s transformation from a socialist economy to a free market economy, would provide extremely lessons and experiences for ASEAN member states which are going through the same transformation. He also highlighted the immense opportunities that ASEAN offers.

“Ten Boutique economies, 600 plus million consumers with an expanded middle class are awaiting Hungarian and Central European business people and investors,” the Secretary-General told the Hungarian Ambassadors. The Southeast Asian grouping is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. ASEAN now boasts a combined economy of more than US$2 trillion, and that number is still growing.

Dr Surin also pointed out to his audience that the EU Summit in Vientiane in early of October 2012, will be a great opportunity for the top leaders from Europe and Asia, to discuss and explore potential areas of cooperation.

The European Union is the second largest market for ASEAN, and it is the highest source of Foreign Direct Investment into ASEAN. Some 12 leaders from Europe and Asia are already committed to attend the 9th ASEM Summit in Vientiane, Laos.

Dr Surin also met several ASEAN Ambassadors in Budapest – such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, and the Philippines. He encouraged them to set up the ASEAN Committee in Third Country in Budapest to tap the opportunities, and to project ASEAN’s interests into Central Europe.