Morocco is a gateway for African business

The passing year has already been spent with determining specific goals – said Sándor Balogh, Hungarian co-president of the Moroccan-Hungarian Business Council (MHBC) in an interview AfroMarket. The Hungarian Trade and Cultural Center (HTCC) opened in Rabat this March plays an important role in building relationships since it provides the place for business meetings, negotiations and cultural events. Actions finally take over in Hungarian-African relations; let us see what we have done in 2013.

Sándor Balogh:

2013 has brought a breakthrough in broadening Hungarian-African relations. After the opening of the office in Rabat in March, the HTCC network established its commercial and cultural base in April in Accra, Ghana, and in May in Kampala, Uganda.  Our plan is to open another center in Tunis, Tunisia in the autumn of 2014. The aim is to provide Hungarian small- and medium-size enterprises with information on local opportunities in the field of investment, development and cooperation.  In order to ensure this, HTCC offices organize local business forums and travels to the given African country and also inform entrepreneurs of local fairs and exhibitions of international interest and organize the full participation providing interpreters and accommodation if needed.

AfroMarket:

According to specialists who know the African market, the continent is the place where the „hit and run” tactics will not work. Without thorough preparation, sizing up the circumstances and local network there is no success in this market. What kind of results has the year 2013 brought in the work of MHBC and where are you know in the building process?

Sándor Balogh:

We always call the attention of enterprises that the African market needs a lot of attention and caution, as well as stamina and patience, since distance and local social, political and economic relations do not favor quick business deals.  However, I have to emphasize that in case of a successful business deal, the experience gained can help a lot in making more successful businesses in other African countries.

In the life of MHBC 2013 was a very active year. Even at present we are taking part in and helping negotiations in the fields of food industry, pharmaceutical industry, education, metal industry, IT and renewable energy resources.  

AfroMarket:

It is an argument often heard that you cannot get along in Africa without stable political relations and solid institutional background. How could the government’s “Opening towards the East” policy help Hungarian economic and business successes in the continent?

Sándor Balogh:

Founding the Business Council had preceded the announcement of the government’s “Opening towards the East” policy. It was the crisis of 2008 that called our attention to the fact that there are continents outside Europe, such as Africa, which have developed a lot during recent years and could be potential markets for Hungarian enterprises.

The HTCC network perfectly fits in the government’s policy of “Opening towards the East. We have offered our experience and relationships to several government institutions and have been in cooperation with organizations of the Ministry for National Economy, the Hungarian Investment and Trade Agency and the Budapest Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Together with the above mentioned organizations we organize business forums, business travel delegations, and information days for Hungarian small- and medium-size enterprises in order to join our effort to help them emerge in foreign markets.

Afromarket:

Political relations are improving, and interest in colorful African culture and life has increased lately in Hungary. How can Hungarian economy and Hungarian entrepreneurs benefit from all this? 

Sándor Balogh:

“Turning to Africa” on government level has directed Hungarian enterprises not only towards economic opportunities; it is essential for a successful business deal to know the culture of the given African country. In order to enhance all this, we broadly spread Africa-themed photo exhibitions, book reviews, events, accounts of doctors coming back from medical missions and several films about African trips both to companies and the media.

  

AfroMarket:

According to our experience there is increasing demand for objective, factual economic and business information. Nowadays, lack of news, knowledge or experience can still keep a lot of Hungarian entrepreneurs and businessmen from taking their chance in Africa. How could we fight against stereotypes?

Sándor Balogh:

In my opinion objective and detailed information can cease negative stereotypes in Hungarian businessmen’s viewpoint. We need to grab every opportunity in the radio, television, internet and other forums to give them the information they need.  There are success stories in the region; the companies that have achieved results could provide a more specific picture of the region. It is very important for these companies to participate at the information days because they can affirm the final decision about opening to the foreign market for companies that were either fence-sitters or have been postponing making their decisions due to lack of local knowledge.

AfroMarket:

Only few know that you and your colleagues, besides building Moroccan relations, have been urging the opening in Tunisian-Hungarian cooperation for years. The Tunisian-Hungarian Business Council, among others, serves this purpose too. Morocco, in an almost unique way in the region, has stayed politically stable; its economy is growing. Tunisia on the other hand has problems fighting off the consequences of the Arab Spring although it seems, there is a government of experts forming at the end of the year, which will lead the country until the next elections. What can we, Hungarians offer to these two states either individually or as part of the EU making use of its possibilities?

Sándor Balogh:

The main characteristics of the Business Councils are, unlike in other countries, having sister organizations in both Morocco and Tunisia.  Thanks to this, we can organize or be partners of events such as the visit of the Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs at the headquarters of MHBC. The participation of THBC (Tunisian-Hungarian Business Council) in the reopening of the charter flight is already a fact as we expressed in every governmental platform when visiting Tunisia that it is an essential element and condition of Tunisian-Hungarian economic relations for businessmen to have a direct flight to Tunisia.  I would also like to mention here the active participation in organizing the delegation of the Tunisian Minister of Trade and Industry.

I have given these details to emphasize: it is not only Hungary that turns to Morocco and Tunisia but there is also great interest in these countries towards Hungary. It is because Hungarian products and technologies are affordable, they have a much shorter pay-off than that of a big western country’s technology.

During my travels in these countries, the representatives of government institutions of the delegations always emphasized the similarities, the active business life of the past of the two countries. As for Tunisia, there are a lot of similarities concerning both the size, and the number of populations. We have similar energy resources so we are thinking in terms of similar scale and measures.

What we, Hungarians can give is our remarkable knowledge in different technological solutions – technological transfer. We can also help Tunisia a lot with our experience in democratic transition. 

AfroMarket:

The end of the year is not only the time for making an account but also for determining new plans and tasks. If we meet again at this time next year, what results will be satisfying for you?

Sándor Balogh:

I am not dissatisfied with our results so far, as the past seven years have taught me that results, successes are not easy to achieve in Africa. I sincerely do hope that the negotiations having started in different fields will be realized in 2014 and by this time next year I will have returned to you with specific results.  

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