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NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, April 19) - On the eve of the signing of a New Zealand Regional Seasonal Employer work scheme, the wisdom of encouraging thousands of Tonga's best agricultural workers to leave the country has been questioned by commercial farmers here.

Under the Regional Seasonal Employer work scheme, 5,000 Pacific Islanders will be employed in New Zealand's horticulture and viticulture industries, and the first group of Tongan workers is expected to leave for New Zealand sometime in May. Tonga's Minister of Labor left for Auckland today for tomorrow's signing of the IAU for the work scheme.

Meanwhile, the advantage of the work scheme for Tonga was strongly questioned by Tsutomu Nakao, the Chairman of the Tonga Squash Council, during Tonga's first National Economic Summit, which ended yesterday.

In a paper titled, "The Challenges and Opportunities for a Private Sector Led Growth in Agriculture" presented at the summit yesterday, Tsutomu outlined what he thinks will be the impact of the new Regional Seasonal Employer work scheme on the Tongan Labor market.

"The best workers will be recruited on a permanent basis by New Zealand growers to immigrate with family. Is this the best result for Tonga? Haven't we lost enough talent already in the health, education, civil service and utility sectors? New Zealand has lost a major part of their viable workforce to Australia. Are we (as Tonga and the Pacific) to serve as a feeder nations for the employment requirements of these nations or should we be facilitating the paths of these prospective emigrants to a level of income and quality of life that negates the drive to leave," he said yesterday.

"Our best growers are world class," he noted, in looking at how Tonga can have, "a viable, vibrant, growing and sustainable agricultural sector".

Tonga's Minister of Labour Commerce and Industries, Honorable Lisiate 'Akolo hosted the summit.

Government representatives from Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu will sign an Interagency Understanding Agreement, in Auckland tomorrow, April 20, to formalize the beginning of the New Zealand Regional Seasonal Employer work scheme.

Honorable Lisiate 'Akolo will sign the IAU for Tonga. Following the signing ceremony the Minister and his deputy secretary Sione Maumau will visit farms where the first group of Tongan Seasonal Workers will live and work.

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