November 6, 2016 / 7:03 AM / 9 months ago

Australia, Indonesia continue push for trade deal, after President skips visit

Indonesia President Joko Widodo (3rd L) talks to reporters after a protest by hardline Muslim groups against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 5, 2016 in this picture taken by Antara Foto. Also pictured are (from L) police chief Tito Karnavian, military commander Gatot Nurmantyo, Coordinating Minister Wiranto, National Intelligence chief Budi Gunawan, and Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin. Antara Foto/Puspa Perwitasari/via REUTERS.

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Trade ministers from Australia and Indonesia continued negotiations on Sunday to seal a trade deal between the two neighbors, despite Indonesian President Joko Widodo postponing a trip to Australia to deal with local unrest.

Widodo postponed his Nov. 6 to 8 visit on Saturday after a mass protest in Jakarta on Friday that briefly turned violent as Muslim extremists pressed for the resignation of the capital's governor, a Christian they say insulted the Koran.

Indonesia's president has faced criticism for failing to rein in hardline groups that had promised for weeks to bring tens of thousands onto the streets of the capital.

Meanwhile, Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita continued negotiations with his counterpart Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo on Sunday for a bilateral trade agreement expected to be reached by late next year.

Long-stalled discussions to secure a trade agreement resumed in March, despite the often uneasy relationship between the two neighbors.

Members of hardline Muslim groups hold a big national flag as they attend a protest against Jakarta's incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian running in the upcoming election, in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 4, 2016. Picture taken November 4, 2016.Beawiharta

"While it is unfortunate President Widodo had to postpone his visit, Minister Lukita's decision to visit Australia at this time to discuss the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement reflects the importance of this agreement to both governments," Ciobo said in a statement.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (L) shakes hands with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia November 12, 2015.Darren Whiteside

Widodo had been expected to address Australia's parliament on Monday after attending meetings with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday.

Turnbull visited Indonesia last year in the hope of smoothing over ties strained by rows over spying, the execution of Australian citizens in Indonesia and Australia's tough asylum-seeker policies.

Indonesia is Southeast Asia's largest economy but is only Australia's thirteenth-largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth A$15 billion ($11.51 billion) in 2015.

Australia is hoping for greater access to Indonesia for its live-cattle exports and other agricultural products. Additionally, negotiations are also expected for increased tourism and investment in Indonesia.

Reporting by Jarni Blakkarly; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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