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Indonesia appoints new trade minister

Indonesia's former investment chief was appointed the new trade minister on Wednesday, a key role as Southeast Asia's top economy seeks to boost confidence following recent turmoil.

JAKARTA: Indonesia's former investment chief was appointed the new trade minister on Wednesday, a key role as Southeast Asia's top economy seeks to boost confidence following recent turmoil.

The appointment of Muhammad Lutfi, most recently Indonesia's ambassador to Japan, comes after Gita Wirjawan quit as trade minister last month to concentrate on his bid for the presidency at elections in July.

Announcing the decision, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he hoped that trade "would become one of Indonesia's economic pillars".

Lutfi pledged to ensure "price stability to battle inflation", which recently rose due to a fuel price hike, and boost exports.

His role will be key at a time Indonesia's trade position has been a concern for foreign investors, adding to pressure on the economy sparked by the United States' decision to taper off its stimulus programme.

The current account balance - of which the trade balance forms a key part - recorded its biggest ever shortfall in the second quarter of last year since the late 1990s.

However concerns have eased in recent months, with the trade balance surging to its highest level in two years in December.

Before his diplomatic posting in Japan, Lutfi served as the head of the country's Investment Coordinating Board.

Wirjawan quit as trade minister to compete in a contest in the ruling Democratic Party to pick its presidential candidate for the forthcoming polls.

However recent surveys have indicated he would stand little chance of winning the presidency, particularly following a string of corruption cases that have hit his party.

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