Several Nebraska politicians and a prominent state agricultural leader have weighed in with more-or-less positive comments on the signing of a “Phase One” trade deal between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

The 86-page agreement signed Wednesday is part of a larger negotiation between the two economic superpowers, which have long been at odds over policies and practices with trade implications. The conflict has escalated since the Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese exports in July 2018.

Steve Nelson, who farms near Keene in Kearney County and serves as president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, said in a news release he sees potential in Wednesday’s signing of the Phase One pact by President Donald Trump and Vice Premier Liu He of China.

The pact hacks into a thicket of thorny subjects including intellectual property ownership, technology transfer, financial services, currency and foreign exchange.

Nelson, who leads the state’s largest general farm organization, noted the way the U.S.-China trade conflict has disrupted exports of Nebraska-raised agricultural goods over the past two years. Under Wednesday’s pact, China agrees to purchase, on average, $40 billion in U.S. ag products each year for the next two years.

“Today’s signing of the Phase One deal with China is positive for American agriculture and Nebraska’s farm and ranch families,” Nelson said. “There’s no question it’s a critical step forward in stopping escalation of the trade dispute with what has been one of our largest trading partners and purchasers of Nebraska agricultural commodities — particularly Nebraska soybeans.

“Equally important, this deal opens the door for the U.S. to regain a foothold in Chinese markets. Make no mistake, there’s a lot of ground for the U.S. to make up. Our diminished access created cracks allowing many of our global competitors to make inroads into China.”

According to Nebraska Farm Bureau, Chinese purchases of U.S. ag products averaged just more than $25 billion per year from 2014-17, prior to the start of the trade disruptions. Nebraska ag exports to China averaged just under $1 billion from 2015-17.

With the conflict under way, Chinese purchases of U.S. ag products fell to $13 billion in 2018. For 2019, the figure for January through November equaled $15 billion.

In comments at Wednesday’s signing ceremony in Washington as reported by The Associated Press, Trump cited beef, pork, poultry, seafood, rice and dairy products as ag goods that would see a sales bump as a result of Wednesday’s agreement.

Without question, the damage to ag trade fortunes has put to the test Trump’s support among many farm and ranch constituents and even some of his fellow Republicans of the U.S. House and Senate. All members of Nebraska’s current congressional delegation are Republicans.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., a Valentine area rancher and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, attended Wednesday’s signing agreement. In a statement afterward, she thanked Trump and the U.S. trade negotiations team for its work on the China issue.

“This deal will help expand market access for Nebraska and will bring much needed economic certainty to the manufacturing, agriculture and energy sectors,” Fischer said.

In other trade-related news on Wednesday, Fischer, who also serves on the Senate Commerce Committee, voted to advance the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to the floor of the Senate, where she said it is expected to pass on Thursday and then go on to Trump for his signature.

The USMCA represents a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which took effect in 1994. According to Fischer, Nebraska sent nearly $900 million in ag goods to Mexico and nearly $450 million in ag goods to Canada in 2017.

Like Fischer, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., issued a news release praising Wednesday’s signing of the Phase One agreement with China.

“Trade is always good news,” Sasse said. “Every Nebraskan is rooting for the president to get good deals done. More trade is a win-win for Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers. The Chinese aren’t our foes, but the tyrants running the Chinese Communist Party are. Nebraskans want to keep the pressure on the commies in Beijing and make sure Chinese families can enjoy the best ag products in the world.”

U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., released a statement Wednesday sounding a cautiously hopeful note concerning the Phase One agreement.

“This first phase agreement with China is a positive first step toward addressing one of our biggest trade challenges,” Smith said. “We must be vigilant in ensuring China follows this agreement, as we continue to fight for free and fair treatment of Nebraska products. I look forward to taking Nebraska agriculture producer concerns to the White House.”

Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, for his part, had complimentary words for Trump on the occasion of Wednesday’s China pact signing.

“The president’s relentless focus on right-sizing our trade relationship with China is important for Nebraska as we seek to expand markets for our ag products around the world,” Ricketts said. “Looking to the future, the U.S. must stay the course on addressing remaining priorities in our national interest in Phase Two.”

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