Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz said Friday that President Donald Trump has done a "nice job" when it comes to regulatory and tax reform.

"The thing that could derail all that," Fritz said, "Is getting trade wrong."

The theme from Fritz and his fellow panel members Friday was that so far, the president is doing more wrong than right when it comes to trade.

Fritz was one of four business and government officials who participated in a trade discussion Friday in Omaha at the Marriott Downtown at the Capitol District Hotel, and also video streamed online.

The discussion was sponsored by Trade For America, a joint effort by Business Roundtable, American Farm Bureau Federation, National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, as well as Farmers For Free Trade.

The original purpose of the panel was to discuss the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but Trump's proposal Friday to impose tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum took center stage.

Jay Rempe, chief economist for the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said tariffs are "not a very good policy tool," and they raise the specter of trade retaliation.

And because agriculture is one of the few sectors of the economy in the U.S. that produces a trade surplus, it's, "one of the first things (other countries) look at to pick on."

Despite the discussion detouring into tariff talk, a good portion of it did focus on the importance of NAFTA and other trade agreements to Nebraska, which is ranks fourth among the states in the value of its agriculture exports.

President Trump has proposed overhauling NAFTA and other U.S trade agreements.

Fritz said it would make sense to modernize NAFTA, largely because it's 25 years old and many technologies and industries have changed, but it does not make sense to scrap the deal or radically change it.

Congressman Don Bacon, who helped facilitate the panel discussion, said he touts the value of NAFTA to the president and administration officials every chance he gets. The deal is worth $6.4 billion to Nebraska and supports 55,000 jobs, he said.

Unfortunately, Bacon said, at a time when the U.S. should be looking to expand trade, it's "playing defense right now."

Other members of the panel were Brian Turner, vice president and general manager of Behlen Technology and Manufacturing in Columbus, and Nebraska Director of Agriculture Steve Wellman. Steve Jordon from the Omaha World-Herald was the moderator.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or molberding@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.


Business editor/reporter

Matt Olberding is a Lincoln native and University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has been covering business for the Journal Star since 2005.

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