WASHINGTON/NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday met with China's top trade envoy, Vice Premier Liu He, at the White House, saying that a deal could be reached in about four weeks, in which case a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping would be held in Washington.
"Within the four weeks -- or maybe less, maybe more, whatever it takes -- something very monumental could be announced," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office ahead of his meeting with Liu.
Liu said that although the two countries still have remaining issues to negotiate, "hopefully we'll get a good result."
Trump's suggestion of hosting Xi in Washington was a concession made by the U.S. side. The Americans had initially proposed holding the summit at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, but the Chinese side had requested an official visit to Washington or a neutral location in a third country.
Yet, after multiple meetings in both countries, the two sides have been unable to reach a final deal. Earlier in the day, U.S. media reports had suggested that a summit between the two leaders would likely be announced at the White House meeting. That the convening of the summit was not announced signals that differences still remain.
The president warned that without an agreement in place it would be "very tough" to allow trade with the U.S. to continue "in a large way as we have in the past."
Tariffs and intellectual property theft are among the sticking points at the negotiating table, Trump said, despite saying that the two sides "have agreed to far more than we have left to agree to."
When prompted by a reporter, Trump admitted that the issue of enforcement is still being negotiated as well.
"A lot of the most difficult points, points that we didn't think we could ever do, or we wouldn't agree to on both sides have been agreed to," the U.S. president said. "We have some ways to go, and I think we have a very good chance of getting there.
"There's a very good chance we'll have a summit," he said.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the American lead negotiator, said however that "there's still some major, major issues left."
After the meeting, the consulting firm Eurasia Group issued a note pointing out that the fact that "the two sides did not reveal a notional date for a summit between Trump and Xi Jinping is an indication that they have yet to reach agreement on difficult issues."
The group said that if the two sides cannot come to an agreement by the Group of 20 leaders meeting in Osaka, Japan in June, and delays extend deep into 2019, the U.S. presidential election "could then pose a complicating factor, leading China to try to wait out the clock on Trump’s first term rather than make tough concessions."
Ahead of the White House meeting with Liu, Trump had said that he is in "no rush" to finalize an agreement and that "it's got to be the right deal." The White House has been aggressive in negotiations as U.S. stocks rally from a sharp sell-off in the second half of 2018 after the Federal Reserve decided to halt further interest rate hikes.
Should talks reach a deadlock again, however, headwinds will begin to pick up for the global economy. The International Monetary Fund warns that stronger sanctions resulting from a breakdown in negotiations could cut trade between the two countries by up to 70% in the long run.
China had kept an eye on the Russia investigation clouding Trump's government, but the U.S. president seems to have survived the greatest political danger, giving him breathing room to avoid a quick deal. The direction of the global economy will determine how quickly an agreement is concluded.