Wed, 09 Mar 2005

Hungary vies for projects in Indonesia

Endy M. Bayuni, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Hungary is vying for economic projects in Indonesia as a way of enhancing relations between the two countries, with sectors such as the construction of roads, bridges and railways, and information technology (IT) and automotive parts featuring prominently on its wish list.

Janos Koka, Hungarian minister of economy and transportation, wound up on Tuesday a two-day visit to Indonesia to explore business opportunities here through a series of talks with senior Indonesian officials and business leaders.

"We're not a capital exporting country," Koka said at a breakfast meeting at the Shangri-La Hotel when asked about the prospect of Hungarian investment in Indonesia.

Hungary, a country of 10 million people, is not looking for large-scale investments in Indonesia, he said. "We are looking at economic development projects where we can help and participate."

He cited the IT sector, including the development of IT for education, as one area where Hungary could help Indonesia.

Koka came well prepared. His delegation includes a representative from the Hungary Exim Bank, which would provide credit financing, through a cooperation with Indonesia's Bank Mandiri, for Hungarian exports to cash-strapped Indonesia.

Koka is well versed in the IT sector. A medical doctor by training, he ran his own IT company in Hungary for 10 years until he was recruited to the Cabinet in September.

At 32, he is the youngest member of the Cabinet. A self-made millionaire (the Hungarian Menedzser Magazin said last year he was worth 10.9 million euros), Koka said relations between Indonesia and Hungary were best enhanced through economic and trade diplomacy.

"I am the sales and marketing representative of the Republic of Hungary," he proclaimed.

Many Hungarian companies that had operations in Indonesia left the country in the wake of the Asian financial crisis in 1998. The two countries are now working to rebuild economic ties. Currently, total direct trade between the countries amounts to about $250 million a year.

About the only Hungarian corporate presence in Indonesia today is an IT company operating out of Batam.

During his two-day visit here, Koka held meetings with ministers Aburizal Bakrie (economy), Mari Pangestu (trade) and Sofyan Djalil (communications and information), and with Ismet Abdullah (governor of the Riau Islands which oversees Batam) and Miranda Gultom (deputy governor of the central bank).

Koka has some familiarity with Indonesia, having chaired the Indonesia-Hungary joint business council in Budapest in the past.

He organized a charity dinner early this year to raise funds for the victims of the tsunami in Aceh, an event eagerly supported by Hungarian businesspeople, Koka recalled.

It was his familiarity with Indonesia that led Koka to place Indonesia among six countries where his "economic diplomacy" would be focused, along with Japan, China, Russia, the United States and the Balkan states.

European countries are not included because Hungary is now a full-fledged member of the European Union. India, in spite of its rapid growth, is seen more as a competitor because it specializes in areas where Hungary is also focusing, such as IT and biotechnology.

But in Indonesia, Koka said, he saw potential for Hungary's participation because the country was still in the early stages of development.

"Indonesia is a land of great opportunities," he said.