MEMPHIS (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg on Friday pledged to de-escalate U.S.-China trade tensions, make it easier for farmers to hire foreign laborers and increase federal agricultural research.

The former New York mayor’s farm policy program, first reported by Reuters, comes ahead of the March 3 nomination contests in 14 states, including farm-heavy states like Minnesota and Oklahoma.

Bloomberg, a billionaire who is self-financing his campaign, is a leading candidate in the Democratic nomination contest to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the November election.

He has been one of Trump’s harshest critics on the campaign trail – sometimes trading personal insults with the president – and on Friday he slammed the administration over its trade policies which have led trading partners, notably China, to put heavy tariffs on U.S. farm exports.

“Trump’s trade war has been devastating for America’s farmers,” he said in a statement.

Despite Trump’s trade policies, polls indicate he still enjoys broad support among farmers.

Bloomberg’s plan does not provide many details on how he would resolve trade differences, but he pledged to “unlock fair and open markets for American farmers by holding China accountable.” He also said he would work more with allies and the World Trade Organization “while de-escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.”

Trump has clashed with China over trade policy, leading both sides to levy tariffs on the other’s exports. The administration has already approved $28 billion in government aid for farmers to offset tumbling farm commodities prices.

A deal that came into effect this month has reduced some tensions, with China slated to increase purchases of U.S. goods. However, a coronavirus outbreak is slowing China’s economy, calling into question its ability to make the required purchases.

In his plan, Bloomberg pledged to double federal investments in agricultural research and make an agricultural visa program “more flexible for farm workers and farmers.” He also vowed to bolster small farms by reversing some Trump administration moves, including shuttering an agency, GIPSA, charged with enforcing antitrust law in the meatpacking sector.

As he has risen in public opinion polls, Bloomberg has also drawn growing scrutiny and attacks from rivals, including a social media post promoted by Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr. That post showed 2016 remarks by Bloomberg which were edited so that it appeared he was describing farming as simplistic.

The unedited remarks show Bloomberg was describing the history of “agrarian society” rather than modern farming.

Reporting by Jason Lange, additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Alistair Bell

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