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Winding up his trade mission to Vietnam and Japan on Monday, Gov. Pete Ricketts expressed optimism for a growing international market for Nebraska's agricultural products in Asia.

Vietnam could develop into a major new customer, the governor said during a telephone interview from Tokyo.

Meanwhile, Japan and the United States may be on the cusp of a broad new trade agreement that results in lower beef and pork tariffs that would be "a really big deal for Nebraska," Ricketts said.

Asked about the Nebraska Farm Bureau's recent estimate that trade policies under President Donald Trump have resulted in a $2 billion hit to Nebraska agriculture over the past two years, the governor said he believes rural Nebraska understands the need to adjust U.S. trade relationships.

"I think we would all like to have normalized trade relationships," Ricketts said. "That's important for Nebraska farmers and ranchers.

"The big topic is China. It's an important relationship. 

"As I talk to farmers and ranchers," the governor said, "they pretty much understand that President Trump is doing the right thing" in adjusting the trade relationship with China.

"China cannot continue to be allowed to have unfair trade practices," he said. "It's important that we get it right for the long term.

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"Farmers are not happy, but they also support the president (in his effort to) get the long-term relationship right with China."

Ricketts said a developing trade relationship with Vietnam for U.S. ag products would help reduce dependence on the Chinese market. 

Meanwhile, the governor said, the United States and Japan are zeroing in on an important new trade agreement.

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"It will be a very tight timeline to get it done this year," he said. "Both sides are working on it. President Trump is hugely popular in Japan because of his great relationship with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe."

Trump has said the two countries are close to an agreement; Abe has suggested that "we still have some remaining work that has to be done."

During his final day in Japan, Ricketts met with Keidanren, a major Japanese business association, and later conferred with the Japan External Trade Organization, which works to promote free trade between Japan and the United States, along with increased direct investments.

Earlier, he addressed opening ceremonies of the 51st annual Midwest U.S.-Japan Association conference.

Ricketts pointed to $1.1 billion of products that Nebraska exports to Japan annually, as well as the 9,400 jobs created by Japanese companies in Nebraska. 

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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