A delegation from the Chicago-based Japanese consulate met with Gov. Jeff Colyer last month in hopes of strengthening business relations and to encourage Kansas to rejoin an alliance between Japan and regional states.
Consul general Naoki Ito pointed to trade decisions made at the federal level that could jeopardize the exports of Kansas beef and pork to Japan. By re-joining the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association, he said, Kansas could raise the profile of the state's image, showcase its business and attract investors to create jobs.
"Japan and Kansas could do more," Ito said. "We are allies."
Former Gov. Sam Brownback abandoned the Midwest group in 2012. The association's executive director, Marie Gaudette, said he explained the departure as a cost-saving move for the state. Annual membership is $2,000.
"The state of Kansas felt they already had strong relationships with Japan," she said, "and they wanted the opportunity to pursue other markets."
Ito said Colyer's ascension this year offered an opportunity to renew relations.
Colyer's office declined to answer questions for this story. On Friday, the office issued a news release listing accomplishments through the first 100 days in office. The list includes conversations Colyer had with consul generals of China, Mexico, Pakistan and Bangladesh "to strengthen trade ties with Kansas," but makes no mention of the April 23 visit from the Japanese delegation.
One of the delegates, Shinichiro Nakamura, said their meeting was "very fruitful."
"We look forward to continuing to strengthen our Kansas-Japan friendship," Nakamura said.
The Midwest U.S.-Japan Association celebrates 50 years with an annual conference in September in Omaha. The location changes to a different Midwest city every other year. During odd years, the conference is held in Tokyo. Last year, attending governors were granted an audience with the prime minister.
Gaudette said she was sorry to see Kansas, one of the oldest members, leave the other nine states. The association works to introduce U.S. companies to senior investors in Japan, she said. At annual conferences, U.S. business executives get undivided attention.
"I've always thought it was a good chance for them to get into those circles," Gaudette said.
Those relationships have led to Japanese investment in or ownership of 55 Kansas facilities that employ 10,000 people. They include Sprint Corporation in Overland Park, Great Plains Manufacturing in Salina, Helena Chemical Company in Garden City, Matheson Tri Gas in Topeka and Wichita, and Takako America Co. in Hutchinson.
Investors remain interested in Kansas, Ito said, because it offers a diversity of sectors, including renewable energy through wind power.
Ito also talked about the consequences of President Donald Trump exiting from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have lowered tariffs on trade between the countries. Japan is a top consumer of Kansas pork and beef. In response, Ito said, the country already has forged a new trade agreement with Australia and is finalizing a deal with the European Union.
"This has merely opened up the Japanese agriculture market, especially for beef and pork," Ito said.
As a result, he said, Kansas is missing an opportunity to grow and could actually lose consumption from Japan.
Todd Domer, spokesman for the Kansas Livestock Association, said the TPP would have lowered the tariff on Kansas beef to nine percent in 15 years. Instead, the rate will be 38.5 percent. Japan's deal with Australia undercuts the U.S. market by offering 27.5 percent.
Lobbyists for the industry have daily contact with the Trump administration, Domer said, in hopes of striking a new deal. The process has been complicated by chaos in the administration, he said.
"We can only highly recommend to the administration that they swiftly put together a bilateral agreement that will benefit the American beef provider," Domer said.