GRAND ISLAND – President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan issued a joint statement after a summit Wednesday, outlining plans for future trade negotiations.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said achieving high-standard trade agreements is a top priority for American agriculture, and the announcement of the beginning of negotiations for a U.S.-Japan trade agreement is an important step in that process.

“This is welcome news, since we know that export income is critical to the financial health of agriculture and is a key contributor to rural prosperity,” Perdue said. “Japan is an important customer for our agricultural products and we look forward to the great potential this breakthrough represents.”

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Nebraska, introduced legislation earlier this year recognizing the importance of a U.S.-Japan partnership and supporting the pursuit of closer trade ties between the two nations.

Smith said Japan is one of Nebraska’s most important allies and trading partners. A bilateral trade agreement between the two nations is long overdue and represents a “positive step toward the negotiation of such an agreement for the benefit of our producers and consumers alike.”

“I have long called for the reduction of trade barriers between United States and Japan,” Smith said.

Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau president, said that ever since Trump pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, his organization has urged the administration to follow through on its promise of developing bilateral free trade agreements with TPP member countries, especially Japan.

“Japan is already our largest trading partner for Nebraska beef and a major purchaser of Nebraska agriculture commodities including pork, corn, soybeans, wheat, grain sorghum and dairy products,” Nelson said.

TPP was projected to be a boon for Nebraska agriculture, he said, increasing agriculture cash receipts by more than $378 million per year when fully implemented, with much of that gain attributed to increased trade with Japan. “If the U.S. can lower Japan’s existing 38.5 percent tariff on U.S. beef, which was slated to gradually decline to 9 percent under TPP, that would be a major victory for Nebraska,” Nelson said.

Earlier this week, Trump announced that he has approved a modernized United States-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). Nelson said that was also welcome news for Nebraska farmers and ranchers.

“South Korea has been a tremendous trading partner and consumer of Nebraska beef, pork, corn, soybeans, as well as other agriculture commodities,” he said. “This agreement eliminates the uncertainties that existed about our ability to access this critical market moving forward.”

Nelson said that Nebraska Farm Bureau’s economic analysis shows the KORUS agreement was worth roughly $340 million to Nebraska agriculture in terms of total exports in 2016.