SINGAPORE - Singapore and Hungary on Thursday agreed to boost economic cooperation, as well as partnerships in aviation, education and food safety.
Relations between the two countries are steadily strengthening, and bilateral trade has grown rapidly, exceeding S$1.14 billion last year, noted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
He was speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the signing of three agreements.
While trade between both countries is still modest, but both sides are keen to further economic cooperation, both bilaterally and regionally.
"Hungary provides an excellent gateway for Singapore and Asean to central and eastern Europe," said Mr Lee.
"And Singapore is a trading and financial hub located in the middle of Southeast Asia, which Hungary should make full use of to access the growing Asean market."
With its population of 630 million and a combined GDP of US$2.5 trillion, Asean presents a wealth of economic opportunities for Hungary.
And Singapore itself can provide Hungarian businesses with a test bed for new technologies and products, and a launch pad to the South-east Asia and beyond, said PM Lee.
He added that he and his Hungarian counterpart, who is in town for a two-day visit, agreed it is important for their countries to remain open to free trade.
Mr Orban, speaking in Hungarian, noted he had brought along a sizeable business delegation as Hungary is keen on finding more opportunities to work with Singapore on the business front.
His country, he said, has much to offer in fields such as agriculture, IT and pharmaceuticals.
"We highly appreciate the stability of Singapore," said Mr Orban, noting that Hungary believes that the future belongs to countries that are stable in the long-term, both politically and economically.
"This continues to be our greatest challenge in Europe... how to provide security and safety while at the same time remaining competitive."
He added that the three agreements signed on Tuesday will also help break down barriers in their fields.
One agreement, between the Ministry of Human Capacities of Hungary and Singapore's Ministry of Education, will encourage educational institutions in the two countries to explore more opportunities for student exchanges and internships.
Hungary will, in addition, offer 30 scholarships a year for Singaporeans to pursue degree programmes there.
The second agreement will provide an official framework on how the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore and the National Food Chain Safety Office of Hungary can work together in the field of food safety.
Singapore and Hungary also signed an air transport agreement that will, among other things, allow their airlines to fly any number of direct services between the two countries, with no restrictions on capacity, frequency, aircraft type and routing schedules.
PM Lee thanked Mr Orban for Hungary's support for the air transport agreement as well as the ratification of the European Union-Singapore Free Trade Agreement.
"These agreements will further enrich our bilateral relations, and underline our commitment to greater economic integration and trade liberalisation," he said.
Mr Orban's first official visit to Singapore began on Tuesday afternoon with a ceremonial welcome at the Istana, after which he called on President Halimah Yacob.
He then met Mr Lee, and witnessed the signing of three agreements.
He ended his day at a banquet hosted by Mr Lee, who noted in his toast speech that Hungary and Singapore have collaborated in areas ranging from sports to science.
PM Lee said: "I am confident your visit will spur greater cooperation and exchanges between our two countries and peoples, and our two regions."
Mr Orban noted that Hungary and Singapore have much in common, having had to rely on their people and talent instead of natural resources.
He invited PM Lee to Budapest and, to laughter, spoke of a Hungarian saying "only dead fish swim with the current".
"It means that all nations need their own formula. Some have to swim against the current to be successful," he said. "We respect your country because you were able to find that magic formula... I hope the outcome of this visit is that the Hungarians will understand how to be brave enough to find a new magic formula."