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Nebraska will pursue more trade opportunities and greater global engagement in the next five years, according to a strategic plan published Wednesday by the Governor's Council for International Relations.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who announced the plan alongside economic development, university and agricultural leaders, said better international relations, trade and engagement will help grow communities in Nebraska.

The action plan to put more Nebraska goods on the global market comes amid growing trade tensions between the U.S. and China that began when President Trump taxed imported goods from America's largest trading partner.

Ricketts struck an optimistic note on Nebraska's future, however, even as tariffs on the state's biggest commodities are causing heartburn among the state's farmers heading into harvest.

Last year, Nebraska exported $8 billion in goods, Ricketts said, or roughly 7 percent of the state's total gross domestic product, including $2 billion in soybeans, $1.26 billion in beef and $1 billion in corn.

The state has also received $7 billion in direct investments in Nebraska companies from foreign countries, primarily from Asian nations, creating jobs that employ roughly 4 percent of the state's total workforce.

More than 5,000 international students will enroll at the University of Nebraska this fall, representing a 47 percent increase since 2010, Ricketts said.

And global tourism creates $700 million in economic activity in the state on an annual basis.

Ricketts said with the help of a 30-member council formed last year representing both the public and private sectors, the state can "pull together and present a united front in representing Nebraska to the world."

Wednesday, Ricketts said Nebraska will pursue six strategies to grow its brand on a global stage:

* Coordinating trade missions among public and private entities to optimize those efforts.

* Forming an "export resource hub" to help the state's small- and medium-sized businesses connect to foreign markets.

* Promoting the state's strengths to encourage further investment from other countries.

* Recruiting goodwill ambassadors to increase Nebraska's global visibility.

* Boosting international enrollment at NU to leverage new partnerships with the world community.

* Market the state as a tourism destination both domestically and abroad.

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Dave Rippe, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, said "the international arena provides tremendous opportunity for our state."

But shortly before the plan's announcement Wednesday, China said it would enact an additional $16 billion in tariffs on American products in an escalating trade conflict.

Asked whether the ballooning set of tariffs against U.S. commodities and products would hamper Nebraska's strategic plan to increase its international engagement, Ricketts said no.

Nebraska has an open line with the Trump administration and is in an ongoing dialogue about the effects of the trade war across the state, the governor said, while standing in support of his efforts.

"The president clearly has a strategy on getting better trade deals," Ricketts said. "He understands the best way is to have no trade barriers, to compete in a world marketplace."

During a summer of escalating trade tensions, the U.S. levied $34 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports, which led to retaliation from the Asian country by way of its own taxes on agricultural goods such as soybeans, corn and pork.

Those commodities represent three of the four largest exports from Nebraska in 2017, according to Ricketts.

But Nebraska beef is blocked in China, along with other U.S. beef exports, Ricketts said. Other markets are opening for ag commodities as the administration negotiates better deals for American farmers.

"Right now, I think we have a window to get these trade deals wrapped up," the governor said, adding that could all change in a few weeks when farmers begin harvesting their crops.

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On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.


Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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