NZ and Aussie trade deals needed as proof EU can do them: Hungarian foreign minister
By Pattrick Smellie
Feb. 17 (BusinessDesk) - The European Union should try to complete new free trade agreements with New Zealand and Australia separately, but at the same time, the Hungarian foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, told the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs at Parliament today.
Proving that it was able to sign FTAs was one of a number of things the EU needed to be able to prove to the rest of the world if it was to become more successful.
"Australia and New Zealand are not a bloc. They are separate negotiations, but I hope they can be completed at the same pace," he said. EU-NZ FTA talks are on the agenda, but are taking longer to kick off than New Zealand trade negotiators would like. "That would be very advantageous for the EU to sign both FTAs."
Szijjártó described a fear in Europe that Britain, which is now talking up its ambition to sign new post-EU trade deals, would be able to do so more quickly and reliably than a slow-moving EU.
While he hoped the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and EU might still take place, despite the failure of an Asia-Pacific version, the Trans Pacific Partnership, Szijjártó said the TTIP negotiations had suffered from excessive secrecy that had undermined public support for trade deals.
"Now I have to fight in my country for FTAs because of the secrecy, because it created a feeling that something wrong is going on."
While he was "pretty certain" no other member states would leave the EU, as the United Kingdom voted to do in its 'Brexit' referendum last year, Szijjártó said it was vital that member states also take back power and influence from the capital of EU affairs, in Brussels, if the EU project was to progress.
"Strong integration requires strong member states, not more power to Brussels," he said.
In his speech and comments, Szijjártó defended US president Donald Trump as a victim of media misreporting on the relevance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and described the expectation of Syrian and other refugees to be able to cross European borders as "unacceptable".
Hungary has built a fence across its southern border to prevent refugee arrivals from neighbouring Serbia and Croatia, both of which are EU member states that are at peace. Under international law for refugees, there were no rights to go beyond the nearest peaceful country able to offer asylum.
A New Zealander in the audience today, who said he was the honorary consul for Estonia, gained sustained applause when he suggested "some" European countries were forgetting the lessons of refugee treatment after World War 2 and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, which saw New Zealand among many countries to accept Hungarian refugees.
Szijjártó hit back, saying Hungarians had never stoned the Italian or Swiss police at the borders of Austria, where most Hungarian refugees fled in 1956.
"The behaviour of these (Hungarian) refugees and the behaviour of 1.5 million people who marched through countries, please, don't put a parallel. That's not the same."