Trade with South Korea is just as important to Nebraska’s beef producers as trade with Canada and Mexico, the Nebraska Farm Bureau said Friday, urging the Trump administration not to undo a good thing as it looks to renegotiate a free trade agreement with South Korea.

The state’s pork producers also have gained from the 2012 agreement, called KORUS, which President Donald Trump has called a “terrible” deal because the United States has a trade deficit with South Korea.

A trade deficit is when the U.S. buys more from a country than it sells to that country. Trump has blamed KORUS and other deals, especially the North American Free Trade Agreement, for hurting U.S. manufacturing and sending jobs to other countries.

Economists disagree that a trade deficit is necessarily a sign of a bad deal, and in agriculture, it can indicate the impact of exchange rates and the increasing diversity of the American diet, the Department of Agriculture has said.

As with NAFTA, the farm lobby says KORUS has been good for farmers. The U.S. is Korea’s top agricultural supplier.

“International trade is critical to Nebraska agriculture,” Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said Friday.

The group released a study from its economist, Jay Rempe, showing that Nebraska’s average annual ag exports to South Korea in recent years increased 52 percent to $321 million from the years before KORUS. Beef makes up about two-thirds of that value.

The farm lobby group wants Trump and the state’s elected officials to hear that message as KORUS negotiations continue.

“We’re going to share this far and wide,” Rempe said.

Trump has also faced a backlash from agriculture as he’s sought to renegotiate NAFTA with Canada and Mexico.

Farm Bureau Director of National Affairs Jordan Dux said he thinks the effort is having an effect and that Trump is softening his rhetoric on NAFTA.

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