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Nebraska benefits from an estimated $10 billion in annual exports
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Nebraska benefits from an estimated $10 billion in annual exports

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Trade is an increasingly vital piece of Nebraska's economic structure, nourishing the state with jobs, economic activity, export opportunities and global customers.

Nebraska benefits from an estimated $10 billion in annual exports, Gov. Pete Ricketts noted, including an estimated $6.6 billion that can be tied to agriculture.

Foreign companies have invested more than $4.4 billion in Nebraska since 2010.

Engagement with foreign markets is increasingly important to Lincoln, Chamber of Commerce President Wendy Birdsall said.

"You've got to be present to win," she said, looking back to her participation in a recent 10-day trade mission to China led by the governor.

"You've got to see and be seen and make a friend," Birdsall said.

"If we're not doing business in a global economy and planning to do more of it, we might as well pack our bags and go home."

At home, foreign-owned businesses are generating economic activity and creating jobs.

Kawaski in Lincoln is a prime example of a company that markets its product nationwide while providing jobs here. 

Ricketts said he hopes to help encourage Kawasaki to expand its operations in Lincoln. 

Birdsall pointed to Kawasaki, Tri-Con, Bosch, Morio Denke and Yasufuku as foreign companies that already do business here. 

"Lincoln wouldn't be where it is today without those jobs and that foreign investment," she said. 

"There are lots of opportunities to expand trade and sell our products overseas," Ricketts said. And both China and Japan are huge markets for Nebraska goods.

President Donald Trump's new trade policy -- some critics describe it as protectionist and less tied to a global economy -- presents some challenges for Nebraska.

Trump has disengaged from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement and is vowing to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.  

Beef and pork, vital segments of Nebraska's economy, appeared to be the U.S. commodities most favored by the terms of TPP, a negotiated agreement that included Japan, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico, Australia and Malaysia, along with other nations across the Pacific Rim. 

The Nebraska Farm Bureau estimated that TPP would increase Nebraska agricultural receipts by $378 million a year. 

NAFTA includes the United States, Mexico and Canada.

"The Trump administration has a different strategy, favoring bilateral trade negotiations" rather than regional compacts, Ricketts said.

"It's up to the Trump administration to negotiate deals that are as good or better," the governor said. "Make that the benchmark."

Ricketts said he will use his contacts within the new administration to "make sure we do not endanger the trade" generated by NAFTA and negotiated by TPP, an agreement that had not yet been submitted to Congress for its approval.

"I'll pick up the phone and talk to them," the governor said.

Ricketts said his direct contacts include Vice President Mike Pence, White House chief-of-staff Reince Preibus and Todd Ricketts, deputy secretary of commerce, the governor's brother.

"We are expecting they have a plan to negotiate a better deal for our producers," Ricketts said. 

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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