OMAHA – On Monday, Governor Pete Ricketts and 400 U.S. and Japanese delegates commenced the second day of the 50thannual conference of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association (MWJA) in Omaha. MWJA is the preeminent organization devoted to strengthening bonds between Japan and the Midwestern American states. Governor Ricketts delivered welcoming remarks this morning from the Grand Ballroom at the downtown Hilton hotel.
“The United States and Japan share a decades-long friendship and a great history of collaboration,” Governor Ricketts said. “This conference is a tremendous opportunity for the leaders who are shaping policy, trade, and business between our two countries to have conversations about the future ahead, and to work on strengthening the important relationships between Japan and our Midwestern states.”
The Governor thanked MWJA for selecting Omaha to host, before emphasizing the value of Nebraska-Japanese economic ties. Japan, he noted, is Nebraska’s second-largest trading partner outside North America, and third-largest international market for agricultural products. State exports to Japan in 2016 topped $1.03 billion. Japan is Nebraska’s largest importer of beef, pork, and eggs, the number two market for Nebraska corn and wheat, and number three market for soybeans.
Additionally, Japan is Nebraska’s largest direct international investor, the Governor said. Today, Japanese companies like Kawasaki employ around 9,400 Nebraskans; meanwhile, Japanese companies have invested over $4.4 billion in the state since 2010. Nebraska exports of beef and pork to Japan increased by 26 percent and 46 percent, respectively.
Following the Governor’s remarks, U.S. and Japanese governors and dignitaries took the podium, including Consul General to the United States in Chicago Naoki Ito; North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum; Shiga Prefecture Governor Taizo Mikazuki; Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb; Saitama Prefecture Governor Kiyoshi Ueda; Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds; Kumamoto Prefecture Governor Ikou Kabashima; and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
Later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney and Japanese Ambassador to the United States H.E. Shinsuke Sugiyama both provided keynote remarks. Ambassador Gregg Doud, the United States Trade Representative Chief Agricultural Negotiator, spoke during the luncheon session.
The afternoon continued with plenary sessions on trade and investment. Notable participants from the private sector included Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Nucor, Toyota Motor North America, Inc., Lindsay Corporation, Nexco, ANA Holdings, Inc., NTT Security (U.S), Inc., Teijin Limited, and UNeMED Corporation.
The three-day conference initially kicked off yesterday with a luncheon event at Anthony’s Steakhouse, featuring beef. Yesterday evening, the delegates gathered at the Kaneko art gallery for a welcome dinner. Omaha-based Japanese artist Jun Kaneko was honored during that event by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the promotion of art and culture between the U.S. and Japan.
The third and final day of the conference will take place on Tuesday, with a full day of sessions slated. To close the conference, the delegates will travel to Lincoln in the afternoon for a tour of Kawasaki.