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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (February 17, 2000 – Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---The Cook Islands government is being urged to suspend a levy on imported fruits and vegetables during the current spell of dry weather.

Currently, local growers are able to supply only 20 percent of needed fresh produce for Cook Islanders due to the four-month drought.

Rarotonga Chamber of Commerce President Don Beer, Jr. said the food shortage is not serious because imported produce is available. But it has come at a much higher cost, which he said is unacceptable.

"The consumers are paying far too much," he said.

Imported cabbage costs up to NZ$ 9 (US$ 4.41) a head, and tomatoes cost NZ$ 14 (6.85) a kilo (2.2 pounds), Beer said.

Beer has met with government officials, urging them to suspend the levy on imported produce. He said that although he received a favorable response, no decisions have yet been made.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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