June trade mission will take Ricketts to EU nations

Source: By Russell Hubbard / World-Herald staff writer • Posted: Friday, April 17, 2015


Gov. Pete Ricketts, speaking at an ethanol conference in Omaha on Thursday, said he is heading out on his first overseas trade mission, a trip to the European Union that will include stops in Denmark, Italy and Belgium.

Ricketts, who took office in January, said the trade mission will be June 7-15 and highlight agriculture and manufacturing.

“Expanding the number of trade missions is a priority of my administration,” he said. “Taking Nebraska agriculture and businesses on the road is important to growing Nebraska. … This mission to Europe will help strengthen existing relationships and build new ones.”

Ricketts made the announcement during the Nebraska Ethanol Board’s Emerging Issues Conference at the Magnolia Hotel.

Ricketts said he chose the EU as his first overseas mission because of such opportunities as inviting food processing and bioscience companies to consider Nebraska locations. He noted Danish bioscience company Novozymes and the $200 million investment in Nebraska the maker of enzymes used in renewable fuels production made in 2011.

“This production facility …created high-paying jobs in our state,” Ricketts said. “This project provided a boost to Nebraska’s economy and also strengthened our state’s foreign relationships. My intention is that this June trade mission will lead to similar outcomes.”

When asked if Novozymes, which employs 120 people in Blair, is considering further Nebraska plans that motivated him to visit the company, Ricketts said, “None that I can talk about.”

Novozymes spokeswoman Paige Donnelly said Ricketts will meet with company Chief Executive Peder Holk Nielsen and others.

“He will be given a tour of the facility,” Donnelly said. “Discussions will center around the partnership between Novozymes and Nebraska and the future of Novozymes in the U.S.”

The stop in Brussels, Belgium, will focus on trade and trade policy, as negotiations continue on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement with the European Union, Agriculture Director Greg Ibach said. That free-trade pact would eliminate trade barriers such as tariffs.

Nebraska exported roughly $900 million worth of goods to European Union countries in 2014, with agricultural goods constituting about half of that figure.

While trip details are still being finalized, Ricketts invited people interested in possibly participating to contact either Joe Chapuran at the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, which is planning Belgium activities, at 402-658-1138, or Stan Garbacz at the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, which is planning the Denmark and Italy legs at 402-471-2341.

The trip to Italy, Ricketts said, will coincide with an important gastronomic exhibition in that country. The governor said he will not miss a chance to talk up Nebraska edibles.

“Our beef is the best in the world,” he said.

Nebraska Ethanol Board Administrator Todd Sneller said Ricketts’ visit to the 10th annual ethanol conference marked the first by a sitting governor. The conference is the industry’s networking and educational event of the year.

Nebraska is the second-largest ethanol producing state, behind Iowa; the business has a $5 billion annual economic impact, supporting 24 plants and 1,300 direct jobs.

A big topic at the conference Thursday was the Environmental Protection Agency’s Renewable Fuels Standard, which dictates how much ethanol gasoline producers must blend into the nation’s fuel supply. The standard is way behind, with 2013 and 2014 numbers yet to be released.

Ricketts, speaking after his trade mission announcement, said that businesses deplore uncertainty and that the EPA needs to get up to date so that ethanol producers can forecast production schedules.

“All we are asking is that they live up to what they originally said they would do,” Ricketts said. “Let’s get back to certainty.”

The RFS is part of a batch of laws passed last decade to encourage renewable fuel production. Part of the law is that the EPA can adjust requirements year to year based on market conditions. Standards have been repeatedly delayed because when the ethanol industry doesn’t like the numbers, it sues the EPA, and oil producers do the same in the other years.

Doug Durante, executive director of the Clean Fuels Development Coalition, said the ethanol industry needs to learn to live on its own by encouraging flex-fuel vehicle adoption, retail sales of higher ethanol blends and collaboration with carmakers.

“But RFS is an important baseline that upholds the foundation and promotes investment,” he said.

The EPA recently settled the latest lawsuit over RFS, one brought by oil companies, said Paul Argyropoulos, a senior policy analyst at the EPA. Under the terms, EPA will propose blending levels for 2015 by June 1 and release a final rule outlining the volumes for 2014 and 2015 by the end of November.

The EPA department that directly works on RFS standards, Argyropoulos said, has about 10 people out of the 15,000 or so working at the federal agency.

“We are not your opposition,” Argyropoulos said. “We are trying to work with everybody. We believe in renewable fuels.”