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Australian minister pushes 'urgent' trade talks in Indonesia

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 17:44
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Australia's trade minister said on Wednesday it was a "matter of urgency" to revive talks on a trade agreement with Indonesia, during a trip to Jakarta with hundreds of business leaders as ties thaw between the neighbours.

[JAKARTA] Australia's trade minister said on Wednesday it was a "matter of urgency" to revive talks on a trade agreement with Indonesia, during a trip to Jakarta with hundreds of business leaders as ties thaw between the neighbours.

"It's a very important visit from our point of view," Andrew Robb told reporters in the Indonesian capital, after arriving at the head of 350 businessmen and -women, the biggest delegation Australia has ever sent to Indonesia.

"We haven't had the engagement that we could and should as such close neighbours," he said, adding that both countries "have been looking past one another" for commercial opportunities in the past 15 to 20 years despite being so close.

He said that talks on a trade pact, which stalled after initial discussions several years ago, would be revived as soon as early next year.

The pact is aimed at strengthening trade, investment and economic cooperation between the neighbours, according to Australia's department of trade.

"We reached an agreement that it would be a matter of urgency to get on with it," Mr Robb said, referring to a discussion aimed at getting the trade talks back on track that he held with his Indonesian counterpart on Monday.

Indonesia is Australia's 12th largest trading partner, with two-way trade valued at US$16 billion last year.

Mr Robb said that Australia is attracted by Indonesia's fast-growing economy and its location, which he said makes it an entry point for Australia to the rest of the region.

Australia's main exports to Indonesia are wheat and cattle, but Robb pointed out that there was potential for partnerships on infrastructure, education and health services.

Mr Robb's four-day trip, which started on Tuesday, follows a visit last week by new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was seeking to turn the page after recent crises.

Relations between Jakarta and Canberra have had many ups and downs, but hit a new low earlier this year following Indonesia's execution of two Australian drug smugglers.

Ties have also been strained by Canberra's hardline immigration policies, which involve turning migrant boats back to Indonesia, and allegations Australian spies tapped the phones of Indonesia's former president.

AFP