by Ben Sasse and Steve Nelson

Sasse is the junior U.S. senator from Nebraska. Nelson is president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Nebraska’s not done winning. Our farmers and ranchers feed the world. We need to protect the free-trade agreements that keep agriculture and our state’s economy moving.

Later today, along with other Nebraska agriculture leaders, we’ll share our straightforward pro-Nebraska, pro-ag and pro-trade message with Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States.

As negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement continue and anti-trade rhetoric grows louder from Washington, we need to tell our Nebraska success story loudly and clearly.

Free trade is a winner because it plays to our strengths. Free trade starts with the simple idea that you should do what you do best to make more money, lower your costs and keep government out of the way. Here’s good news: Nobody touches Nebraska agriculture when it comes to quality, ingenuity and hard work. People around the world want our products, and we’re happy to do business.

Trade is a win-win for Nebraska. Our farmers, ranchers and producers are getting the job done. In 2016 (the latest available data), agriculture exports were a $6.4 billion business for Nebraska. Mexico and Canada are our biggest customers, making up a little less than half of that and buying $2.9 billion in agriculture goods. Mexico was our largest customer for corn, our second-largest customer for soybeans and wheat and our third-largest customer for beef.

Trade with Mexico and Canada means money and jobs here at home. The NAFTA export value to Platte County alone totaled over $34 million in 2016. That same year, the NAFTA contribution in Phelps County totaled over $55,000 per farm — you read that right: per farm. That’s an investment in our local communities and across our state where one in four jobs depends on agriculture.

Unfortunately, Washington’s threats of a trade war and NAFTA exit have put Nebraska at risk.

Trade wars are dangerous and foolish. The White House’s plan to impose a massive tariff on steel and aluminum is bad news for the farmers and ranchers who will be hit twice.

First, these tariffs are massive tax hikes on Nebraskans. This is Economics 101. When the price of steel and aluminum goes up, farmers and ranchers will pay more for everything from combines to grain bins. Nobody farms with plastic tractors.After three consecutive years of declining farm income, higher costs would be a real gut punch.

Second, history shows that agriculture is one of the first casualties in a trade war. Right now, under NAFTA, Nebraska’s corn can be exported to Mexico without any tariff or quota. But when other countries retaliate by imposing tariffs of their own, we will have fewer opportunities to sell our products.

Just last February, as Washington’s anti-trade talk was heating up, Mexico’s agriculture secretary threatened to hurt our corn exports by turning to Brazil and Argentina instead of the Midwest. And in December, Mexico started pulling back from Nebraska wheat producers by purchasing wheat from Argentina for the first time ever. Make no mistake, trade warmongering puts Nebraskans at risk.

We need to drop the talk of unnecessary and painful trade wars and work to protect NAFTA.

Yes, there are places where we can modernize our agreements. For example, the 1994 agreement says nothing about backup cameras in cars, yet it has a set of provisions governing cassette players in cars. There’s no reason we can’t bring that into the 21st century.

But here’s the bottom line: Nebraskans have won with NAFTA, and scrapping the agreement would be a disastrously bad idea.

Our message to the ambassador today is simple: Mexico wants Nebraska’s corn, soybeans, wheat and beef. Nebraska wants Mexico’s business. Our message to Washington is direct: Nebraska is winning with trade, and nobody gets tired of winning.

Read the full article at the Omaha World-Herald here.