August 27, 2018 / 11:14 AM / 3 months ago

Australia's new PM due in Indonesia this week amid hopes on trade

The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a news conference in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/Files

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Australia’s new prime minister is to visit Indonesia this week on his first overseas trip since being sworn in, Indonesia’s foreign ministry said on Monday, amid expectation the neighbours are close to signing a free trade deal.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday for talks on their “bilateral relationship, including economic cooperation, and other regional issues”, said ministry spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir.

Morrison was sworn in on Friday after emerging the surprise winner in an internal leadership challenge in his party.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Sunday he is expected to announce that the two countries are on the brink of signing a free trade agreement (FTA).

Nasir said he could not confirm if Widodo and Morrison would discuss the FTA. An Australian embassy spokesman said he could not confirm Morrison’s visit to Jakarta.

Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, had been scheduled to travel to Jakarta in September. He and Widodo had set a target of completing the free trade negotiations last year.

Separately on Monday, Indonesia’s coordinating minister of economic affairs, Darmin Nasution, said the substance of the trade deal had been agreed on, but he could not confirm when it would be signed.

Despite being close geographically, Australia was only the 14th-biggest buyer of Indonesian exports in 2017, while Indonesia was the 10th-largest export destination for Australia, according to the International Monetary Fund data.

Boosting exports, including by securing market access for Indonesian products through FTAs, is a priority for Widodo’s government as it tries to put a floor under the falling rupiah currency.

Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Maikel Jefriando; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Robert Birsel

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