VOA NEWS – Ken Bredemeier

U.S. President Donald Trump is meeting Thursday at the White House with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, a sign that the world’s top two economic powers could be nearing a trade agreement after marathon talks.

The two countries had originally hoped to reach an agreement by March 1, but even as the negotiations have extended well beyond that date, Trump and his economic advisers say the discussions are progressing. Some officials have suggested a deal could be reached by the end of April.

Trump, on Twitter, described the discussions as “moving along nicely,” but decisions have yet to be made on such problematic issues as automobile tariffs and resolution of the U.S. allegations of Chinese theft of intellectual property, forced technology transfers and computer hacking.

Trump has often talked about his good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and is hoping to hold a signing ceremony with him when an agreement is reached.

Liu met Wednesday in Washington with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

For months, the economic super powers have engaged in a reciprocal tariff war, with both countries imposing levies on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of each other’s exports, which could be eased or ended with a deal. Officials familiar with their negotiations say an agreement could give Beijing until 2025 to meet its commitment on U.S. commodity purchases and allow U.S. companies to wholly own businesses in China.

Trump said the American economy, which reached $20.5 trillion last year, is “looking very strong,” despite what he said were “unnecessary and destructive actions” taken last year by policy makers at the country’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, to raise benchmark interest rates to inhibit too-rapid growth. The independent Fed has since decided it will not raise rates further this year, but said its decisions were unrelated to Trump’s criticisms.

The U.S. leader said his new trade deal with Canada and Mexico is also advancing, although Congress has yet to ratify the pact. Some key lawmakers have said they will not vote on the agreement unless Trump first lifts steel and aluminum tariffs he imposed against the two neighboring countries, which so far he has not indicated a willingness to do.

He said “there is little or no Inflation, and USA optimism is very high.”

Trump’s meeting with Liu is occurring just days after a Chinese woman, Yujing Zhang, was arrested trying to enter Trump’s Atlantic oceanfront retreat in Florida, detained after she entered the compound claiming she was there for what turned out to be a non-existent event.

She was charged with illegal entering and lying to U.S. agents. The U.S. Secret Service, which protects Trump and his family, said she was carrying four cellphones, a laptop computer, an external hard drive and a thumb drive containing computer malware.