15 Jun 2005

Tonga government says exemptions have nothing to do with demonstration

6:38 pm on 15 June 2005

The Tonga government says its decision to extend Consumption Tax exemptions across the agricultural sector had nothing to do with a recent protest rally.

Farmers using dozens of tractors protested outside parliament on Thursday over the tax, which originally provided exclusions for major agricultural businesses only.

The protestors were calling for the government to lift the goods and services tax relating to farming for smaller farmers and exporters.

The Minister of Commerce and Trade, Fred Sevele, says the march was politically motivated and did not force the government's hand.

"It has not forced government to back down or provide exemptions. The growers were told earlier in the year, that as far as growing for export or agricultural produce, they would not have to pay Consumption Tax. That's always been clear right from the start. The mechanism of how to go about that was what government had been working on."

Mr Sevele says the government had acted out of national interest.