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A cadre of Nebraska's top elected officeholders joined other farm state Republican leaders Thursday in personally delivering an urgent message to President Donald Trump about the importance of trade and the negative impact of tariffs on their states.

Sen. Deb Fischer emerged from the White House gathering, which lasted more than an hour, optimistic the president had heard them.

"I think it was a very good meeting, very productive," she said during a telephone interview.

Following the conversation around a table in the cabinet room, Gov. Pete Ricketts reacted with an optimistic tweet.

"Great meeting with @realDonaldTrump this morning on agriculture, ethanol and trade issues. He listened and expressed a commitment to growing international markets to grow opportunity for our farmers and ranchers."

Sen. Ben Sasse issued a news release stating, "It is good news that today the president directed Larry Kudlow and Ambassador Lighthizer to negotiate U.S. entry into TPP."

Kudlow is director of the National Economic Council; Robert Lighthizer is U.S. trade representative. 

The president told those administration officials to "begin working on that with TPP countries," Fischer said. 

But Fischer said she thinks the president may be more inclined to negotiate bilaterally with the 11 nations that ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement after Trump withdrew from the trade pact because he has previously expressed a preference for bilateral trade agreements.

In any event, she said, it was a productive meeting for farm states and agriculture.

"I told the president that agriculture is the economic engine in our state," Fischer said. 

"I reminded the president that Nebraskans voted for him" in 2016, she said. "And that they have confidence he will take their needs into consideration.

"That's the message I will continue to share with the president," Fischer said.

"He said he understands the concerns that farmers and ranchers have," Fischer said. "He hears it and he hopefully is going to be able to negotiate something that would be beneficial for our state."

And that specifically includes a successful conclusion to the current renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, she said.

Mexico and Canada, the NAFTA trade partners, are key markets for Nebraska farm products. 

"People in agriculture are concerned," Fischer said.  "They want to keep those market opportunities that we have."

Fischer is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Ricketts said "Nebraskans appreciate the work the president has done to open new markets for Nebraska beef and pork, but there is also uncertainty around the disruption tariffs may cause."

"I urged the president to put a continued focus on expanding markets for agriculture," the governor said. 

Rep. Don Bacon, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, also participated in the meeting. 

"I told President Trump that our farm prices are significantly down," Bacon said. "Our farmers and ranchers in Nebraska cannot take much more and we need to protect our nation's ag economy."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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