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Business

Indonesia says it's ready to open up its economy

Indonesia's president has unveiled plans for a "big bang" opening of his country's traditionally protectionist economy. Joko Widodo said restrictions on trade and foreign investment could be eased for nearly 50 sectors.

Widodo's plan would be the most drastic move undertaken by his administration to reinvigorate growth in Southeast Asia's largest economy, which has been expanding at its slowest pace in six years.

Widodo said in an interview with Reuters at his presidential palace on Wednesday that his proposal would foresee loosening rules for 49 sectors, including e-commerce, retail, healthcare and the movie industry.

"In my opinion, this is the big bang," Widodo said, while his trade minister, Tom Lembong, told Reuters that the shift to greater openness would get Indonesia ready to take part in free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

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Indonesia woos foreign investors

Opening up Indonesia to more foreign trade and investment would be a big step as the country has a long history of protectionism and entrenchment. But so far, Widodo said he hadn't run into any opposition to his plans.

Those plans could include allowing foreign investors to take majority stakes in Indonesian companies. Currently, they're only allowed to have minority stakes.

The changes may also ring in an era in which foreign medical professionals are allowed to practice in Indonesian hospitals, clinics and laboratories, something they have been prohibited from doing.

"For me, competition is very important," Widodo, a former furniture salesman who went on to be the governor of Jakarta, told Reuters. "If we have already launched our deregulation, the bureaucracy and the system must follow the new rules."

cjc/hg (Reuters)

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