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Tonga, Economy

small excavators, Tongans, crushed coral, Neiafu, trade deficit

Agriculture and fishing are the chief economic activities in Tonga, employing about 70 percent of the people. About 50 percent of the population works predominantly at a subsistence level. The principal cash crops are pumpkins, coconuts, bananas, and vanilla, which account for one-third of Tonga’s exports. Still, much food needs to be imported. A shortage of land is a problem, and many Tongans seek employment overseas. Industry, including construction, manufacturing, and mining, employs the second largest number of people. Nukualofa has a small industrial park. Manufactured goods include concrete blocks, small excavators, clothing, and furniture. New Zealand, Australia, and Japan are Tonga’s principal trading partners.

The national currency is the pa’anga, which is equal to 100 seniti (1.76 pa’anga equal U.S. $1; 2000 average). Increased imports in recent years have created a trade deficit. However, tourism, money sent home by Tongans working abroad, and external aid help offset the negative balance of payments, allowing Tonga to maintain a reasonably well-balanced budget. the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia are the principal aid donors.

Tongatapu Island and the area around Neiafu on Vava’u have a network of paved roads. Elsewhere, roads are of crushed coral or dirt, making them difficult to use by automobiles during periods of heavy rainfall. An international airport is located at Fua’amotu, 21 km (13 mi) from Nukualofa. Domestic air travel from Tongatapu to ‘Eua, Ha’apai, Vava’u, Niuatoputapu, and Niuafo’ou islands is provided by government-owned Royal Tongan Airlines. With the exception of Tongatapu and Vava’u, the islands have unpaved runways that can only accommodate small craft. Several airlines, including Royal Tongan Airlines, provide frequent international flights to Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. Radio broadcasting and a weekly newspaper are controlled by the government. Several privately owned publications are distributed bimonthly or monthly, and there is a privately owned television station.

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