HARVEST MOON

Malaysia 2017 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Andrea Gulyas, Minister of State of Hungary, on technological developments in agriculture, sustainable farming practices, and additional economic opportunities for both nations.

Malaysia has a traditionally strong agricultural sector, mostly focusing on palm oil, rubber, and cocoa plantations. How can Hungarian technological innovation support these industries to stay relevant in a rapidly changing global environment?

Hungary has traditionally been an agricultural country, up until the second half of the 20th Century. Even though new and innovative industries now represent the majority of Hungary's economy, with Budapest amongst the upcoming European capitals for startups, agriculture still has its own traditions in the country, and the government sees it as a strategic sector both for its importance for the domestic economy, and for its potential for foreign trade, and R&D. We face a changing climate for agriculture at the global level both literally and figuratively speaking, so international cooperation should be even more pronounced for agricultural R&D than it is used to be. Hungarian experts have centuries of experience in the agro-scientific field, and we can proudly share our best practices, while also looking for new ideas developed by Malaysia.

The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) focuses maintaining biodiversity and the commercialization of new products. How can Hungarian R&D support organizations such as MARDI?

Hungary currently has a central hub for agricultural research, as well as several institutions at universities and other research centers. The National Agricultural Research and Innovation Center (NARIC) as the main hub oversees important RDI capacities. NARIC has huge experience in preserving genetic diversity for agriculture, widening and continuously developing the genetic resources of agricultural production and looking for new utilization possibilities. It has also worked to develop production methods for the effective utilization of genetic potential. NARIC is also involved in fruit and vegetable research, but we also have a successful gene preservation and conservation policy, assisted by the Center for Plant Diversity. Importantly, Hungary has a no-GMO policy, which is guaranteed even at the constitutional level. We believe that the key to safe food supply for future generations are sustainable farming practices in economic, environmental, and social terms. One of the most important elements for achieving this is a consistent policy towards GMOs. The GMO-free status is important for Hungary. Hungarian consumers refuse products containing GMOs, and a higher demand could be expected in the market for GMO-free products. Nevertheless, we perform physiological, genetic, and molecular biology research, and our plant breeding projects have earned us a distinctive position in the global scene, for instance being one of the world's top exporters of cereal seeds. We believe that our long tradition in agriculture research in these fields is a precious resource for furthering work in many Asian research institutes. We can utilize our possibilities through multilateral, EU-based, or bilateral options ranging from exchange programs to shared projects.

Can Malaysia function as a gateway to ASEAN for Hungarian firms, exports, and technology transfer?

Hungary recognizes the importance of the ASEAN region, including Malaysia. In terms of the so-called Eastward Opening foreign economic policy, Hungary has been making steps to revitalize its connections to business partners outside the EU and the wider European region. We are ready for the next step and would like to promote Malaysia as one of the leading countries of ASEAN where Hungarian firms can find new markets. Of course, this is a mutual opportunity. I underline the fact that Hungary is a member of the EU, one of the most significant integrated markets on the globe. The EU is an attractive market with which to do business. We have 500 million consumers looking for quality goods, and Hungary is located at the heart of Europe. Naturally, our geography is insufficient on its own, which is the reason the government supports investment projects in Hungary by providing a stable business environment and incentives for major investments. Hungary is well-known for its innovation culture as it ranked 33rd on the Global Innovation Index in 2016, which is an outstanding result taking into consideration its geographical location and its few available resources. In this context, we are ready to export our know-how wherever it is in demand.

In which sectors of the economy do you envision further growth for Hungarian-Malaysian economic relations?

There is definite potential for premium agricultural and food products. Premium quality Hungarian food, and 'Hungarikums,' products unique to Hungary and Hungarians, featured prominently during the series of events organized by our embassy in Kuala Lumpur. Since Malaysia also has unique products unknown or not widely available in Hungary, there is possibility for growth either through direct trade or through getting to know our respective cuisines. Beyond the agriculture and food sector, there is potential for the ICT sector and for pharmaceuticals and health products, as well as for green and sustainable technologies. Naturally, there is strong potential for tourism as well. Many Hungarians visit Malaysia, and I hope that Hungary's touristic potential is to be discovered by Malaysians as well.