Interview Hungary: Free-trade from Europe

Author / Editor: Zsolt Meszaros, Editor in Chief, MM Muszaki Magazin / Rosemarie Stahl

The American National Instruments does not produce hardwares in its own country anymore, since it has turned out that it is more efficient to manage the production in Hungary – told us László Ábrahám, manager of the group`s Hungarian affiliated company, NI Hungary Kft. located in Debrecen.

László Ábrahám, manager of the NI Hungary Kft. since its start in 2001. His duty was the launch of the plant with the cutting-edge technology SMT production line. Currently, the company has more than 1200 employees.
László Ábrahám, manager of the NI Hungary Kft. since its start in 2001. His duty was the launch of the plant with the cutting-edge technology SMT production line. Currently, the company has more than 1200 employees.
(Source: National Instruments)

The European Union and the United States are currently working on the preparation of a free-trade agreement. If accepted, what kind of influence do you expect regarding your company?

László Ábrahám: It would definitely provide some positive effects. But I don`t expect any serious consequences, since the customs fees are already fairly low, and the regulations are already mostly synchronous. But it would help our daily operation, if the studies and classifications of the European authorities would be automatically accepted in the United States. But I don`t believe, that it would instantly affect our income.

In your opinion, which global effects could this agreement have?

If accepted, it will be the moment of truth in certain sense. The companies and branches of the industry that are currently under protection will be put to the test. If they can improve their competitiveness, it is a good opportunity, if not, then a rearrangement might take place. In other words, the market would start to clear up. The loss-making, not prospering areas would either be pushed to the background, or disappear completely.

In my opinion, according to our experiences, the earlier we begin with such globalization, the better it is. For example, the Americans used to use NTSC video format, which could not be handled by the European devices. This only held up the flow of information, but thanks to technology, these standards have been eliminated. USB devices can now be used the same way on both continents. These temporary obstacles only hold back the evolution.

This free-trade agreement is sometimes criticized for it might loosen up the existing regulations for consumer protection. Do you think these fears are legitimate?

This is an overreaction. Obviously, the American authorities know exactly as well which precautions need to be made, for example to provide the consumers with healthy food. Naturally, there will be special cases that will have to be discussed during the meetings. But I doubt such problems would arise that could not be handled during these discussions.

National Instruments established the first overseas affiliated company in Hungary. Why did the Americans opt for Hungary and Debrecen?

Around 2001, the growth in Austin ran into some obstacles. There wasn`t enough workforce, so they needed to find an appropriate place, where a new plant could be built. Mexico and Asia was among the potential locations as well. In the end, Hungary was where they found sufficiently developed workforce, appropriate encouraging systems and growth potential.

What is the feedback from the central office?

They are so satisfied with the NI Hungary Kft. that in the meantime they suspended the production in America. It has turned out, that the hardware production can be managed more efficiently from Hungary, since we produce everything in high quality, keeping our deadlines. Throughout the years, a big IT department was established that manages the internal developments of National Instruments, including customer service and a European law department. The direct sales is the only area which is managed by another company in Budapest.

In which directions would you like to develop? Are there any further areas that could be taken over from the American centre?

In my opinion, we could take a larger part in research and development, since the Hungarian engineers possess the same skills as their American colleagues. In some cases, we have already brought certain product researches to Hungary. But at the same time, I understand this slightly slower progress of our mother company, since there are several R&D centres, and coordinating them means a serious challenge. We are in contact with the American R&D department as well, and fortunately, they are open to our ideas. We know of course, that trust takes long to build up, and is easily destroyed: for this reason, we only forward serious, well established suggestions to our mother company.