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Indonesia mulls new higher-grade petrol to ease foreign dependence

[JAKARTA] Indonesia's Pertamina is considering the replacement of its lower-grade gasoline with a cleaner fuel that could help ease the country's dependence on foreign supplies, the oil minister said on Friday.

The state-owned energy firm is looking at launching a new RON90 "Pertalite" grade that would replace the ubiquitous RON88 "Premium" gasoline, which was long subsidised by the government until this year.

The higher grade could also help Pertamina pocket more revenue as RON88 was being sold at a loss. "(Premium) is no longer used in many countries and ... Pertamina relies on overseas tenders because it has to be blended overseas," Energy Minister Sudirman Said told reporters. "The best course is if we make our energy cleaner." He did not say when a decision would be made.

The government has moved the burden of fuel subsidies to Pertamina, forcing the firm to accept losses to ensure prices do not rise too fast for consumers in Southeast Asia's largest economy.

From January to February, Pertamina lost US$72.5 million on fuel sold at prices set by the government below the company's preferred level, CEO Dwi Soetjipto told Reuters on Wednesday.