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Iowa gov exploring new deals on trip to Japan

David Pitt, Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa is seeing a rapid expansion of exports to Japan as the Asian nation's economy recovers from years of stagnation, and the state's economic development officials said Monday they hope to sustain the momentum by meeting with government and business leaders during a trade mission.

The state's exports to Japan so far this year have already exceeded the export level for all of 2012, Gov. Terry Branstad said in a call with reporters from the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association annual meeting in Tokyo.

"Their economy is coming back, and obviously if what they're importing from Iowa is already at this rate, we'll double what we did last year because we've already done more in six months than we did in a year," Branstad said.

Japan is Iowa's third-largest export market for merchandise. The state exported $881 million worth of goods to Japan in 2012, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. That's behind the $4.4 billion in exports to Canada and $2.5 billion to Mexico. The largest exports were tractors, corn, pork and soybeans.

The announcement over the weekend that Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics sent spirits soaring among government and business leaders, said Iowa Economic Development Authority Director Debi Durham.

"You can just feel the enthusiasm and celebration that's occurring here," she said.

Branstad said his trip with a delegation of agriculture and economic development officials is important for exploring new exports and business deals.

The Midwest U.S.-Japan Association members include nine Midwest states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio and Wisconsin — and 100 corporate members, including Toyota Motor Corp., Mitsui & Co. and Sony Corp.

Next year's meeting will be held in Des Moines, introducing a few hundred Japanese business officials to the city and state, Branstad said.

"I've just got a whole pocket full of business cards from people who told me they're looking forward to coming to Iowa next year," Branstad said.

He said the date hasn't been set but the meeting will likely be in September.

The current trade mission includes stops in India after the Iowa group leaves Japan.

It is Branstad's sixth international trade trip since 2011. Travel costs are largely paid for by the Iowa Economic Development Authority's foundation from private contributions. The foundation has spent $113,994 on the governor's travels to date and expects to spend another $10,000 on the current trip.