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Hungary/Romania: President's Visit Boosts Economic Relations

Bucharest, 28 May 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Hungarian President Arpad Goncz's visit to Romania, which ended yesterday, is being seen as a turning point not only in the two countries' political relations but also in their economic ties.

Both Goncz and Romanian President Emil Constantinescu praised the visit as "historic," and so did U.S. President Bill Clinton, in a message handed to both heads of state by U.S. congressman Tom Lantos.

The visit was the first in 20 years by a Hungarian president to Romania, two neighbor states whose relations have often been strained.

The importance of the economic aspects of the visit was signalled by the arrival with Goncz of a delegation of 45 leading Hungarian businessmen. Tom Lantos, a long-time advocate for improved relations between both countries, also arrived in Bucharest with a number of American, Hungarian and Canadian businessmen.

Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea hailed the presence of such an imposing number of businessmen as a sure sign that the time for mere discussions was past, and that now was the moment for action on "very serious and big projects." Ciorbea mentioned a number of cooperative projects in the fields of textile industry, the creation of shopping centres and office complexes, and in other areas. He also announced Romania's intentions to make the national currency, the leu, fully convertible against the Hungarian currency, the forint.

Other bold projects were put in focus during the visit. Romania's Constantinescu expressed hope that a Bucharest-Budapest highway would not remain just a figure of speech, but be turned into reality. Constantinescu also said the Danube River needs to be better exploited in the future, as does the existing rail network between the two countries, which is set to be a link between the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Area and West Europe.

At a Romanian-Hungarian business forum during the visit, the Romanian and Hungarian Chambers of Commerce and Industry signed a cooperation agreement in the presence of Goncz. At the same time, Eximbank from Hungary signed two cooperation deals with Eximbank Romania and Bancorex, designed to support export-import operations between the two countries.

Another topic of the various talks was the Hungarian involvement in the privatization of Romanian state enterprises. An RFE/RL correspondent was told by a representative of the Hungarian minority in the Romanian Parliament, Istvan Antall, that as a result of talks at the State Ownership Fund, various letters of intent are expected in Bucharest soon from Hungarian companies wishing to invest in Romanian objects.

RFE's correspondent notes the trade volume between Romania and Hungary exceeded $400 million last year. Hungary is Romania's main trade partner in Eastern and Central Europe. But it's recognized that such a figure is a small one for two neighboring countries, with regard to their economic potential.

An official from the Romanian Trade and Industry Ministry told RFE that after Romania becomes officially a member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement, from July 1, the volume of Romanian-Hungarian trade is expected to rise significantly.