U.S. singer Chris Brown and two other people were released Tuesday from police custody after a woman filed a rape complaint against them, the Paris prosecutor's office said. The Grammy-winning singer was detained Monday with two other suspects on potential charges of aggravated rape and drug infractions. The Paris prosecutor's office told The Associated Press that Brown has been authorized to leave France while the investigation is ongoing. A post late Tuesday on Brown's Instagram page strongly denied the accusations. "I WANNA MAKE IT PERFECTLY CLEAR...... THIS IS FALSE," the post said. "FOR MY DAUGHTER AND MY FAMILY THIS IS SO DISRESPECTFUL AND IS AGAINST MY CHARACTER AND MORALS!!!!!" Brown's publicists at Sony Music wouldn't comment Tuesday on the complaint or say what Brown, 29, was doing in Paris. His U.S. attorney, Mark Geragos, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Brown has been in repeated legal trouble since pleading guilty to the felony assault in 2009 of his then-girlfriend, Rihanna. He completed his probation in that case in 2015, but has continued to have run-ins with police. The woman who filed the Paris complaint said she met Brown and his friends overnight Jan. 15-16 at the club Le Crystal in the 8th arrondissement near the Champs-Elysees, and then they all went to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel near the Concorde Plaza in central Paris, according to a police official. The Mandarin Oriental wouldn't comment on the investigation, and Le Crystal couldn't immediately be reached. There was no unusual activity outside either site. One of Brown's bodyguards is among the others detained in the Paris investigation, according to the official. They are being held by judicial police in the 17th arrondissement of northwest Paris, the official said. The police official wasn't authorized to be publicly named to discuss the investigation. The detention was originally reported by French gossip magazine Closer. Brown, who burst onto the music scene as a teen, won a Grammy Award in 2011 for best R&B album for "F.A.M.E." and has nominations for other works. His hits include "Look at Me Now," ''Run It," and numerous collaborations with other stars, including "Post to Be" and last year's "Freaky Friday" with Lil Dicky. He released a new single earlier this month and has a new album coming this year. Six of his albums have gone platinum. He retains a huge following of devoted fans, including nearly 50 million followers on Instagram. He posted an Instagram photo Monday from Paris appearing to show him at a nightclub, among several recent posts. Followers responded with mixed messages to the rape accusation. It's the latest legal trouble for Brown, who was arrested at the end of a concert last year to face a felony battery charge involving a nightclub photographer. In 2013, Brown was charged with misdemeanour assault after he was accused of striking a man outside a Washington hotel. He was ordered into rehab but was dismissed for violating facility rules. Brown spent 2½ months in custody. After he completed court-ordered anger-management classes, Brown was accused of throwing a brick at his mother's car following a counselling session. After Brown posted a picture to his Instagram followers in January 2018 showing his 3-year-old daughter, Royalty, cuddling with a pet monkey, California fish and wildlife agents seized the capuchin monkey named Fiji from his home in Los Angeles. Brown was later handed a misdemeanour charge for lacking a permit for the primate. He is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 6 in Los Angeles.

Oscar voters on Tuesday showered Alfonso Cuaron's "Roma" and Yorgos Lanthimos' "The Favourite" with a leading 10 nominations for the 91st Academy Awards, while two dominant but contentious Hollywood forces — Netflix and Marvel — each scored their first best picture nomination. Though many expected "A Star Is Born," Bradley Cooper's revival of one of Hollywood's most remade show business myths, to top the nominations, Cooper was surprisingly overlooked as director and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences instead put its fullest support behind a pair of indies by international directors. With the black-and-white, Spanish-language "Roma," Netflix scored its first best picture nomination, a prize the streaming giant has dearly sought. Marvel, too, joined the club with Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther," the first superhero movie ever nominated for best picture. Cuaron tied the record for most decorated Oscar nominee ever for one film with four individual nods for "Roma," his deeply personal exhumation of his Mexico City childhood. Cuaron was nominated for direction, cinematography, original screenplay and best picture. Only Orson Welles ("Citizen Kane") and Warren Beatty (who did it twice with "Reds" and "Heaven Can Wait") have matched the four-nod feat. Cuaron, previously a six-time nominee and winner for directing "Gravity," said by phone from London that the nominations for such a personal film were more meaningful to him, as was the attention for a film about a humble indigenous domestic worker (Yalitza Aparicio, who was nominated for best actress). He praised Netflix for its commitment to his film. "Cinema needs the opportunity to be diverse," Cuaron said. "What mainstream cinema and the theatrical experience has lacked in general is diversity. And I'm talking about diversity in terms of stories and characters and ways of doing films." Just as rewarded Tuesday was Lanthimos' period romp, which resounded most in the acting categories thanks to its trio of actresses: Olivia Colman in the best actress category, and Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in supporting. Along with "Roma," ''Black Panther" and "The Favourite," the eight nominees for best picture were: Peter Farrelly's interracial road trip tale "Green Book," Spike Lee's white supremacist evisceration "BlacKkKlansman," the Freddie Mercury biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody," Adam McKay's highly critical Dick Cheney biopic "Vice" and "A Star Is Born," which still landed eight nominations, including best actress for Lady Gaga and best supporting actor for Sam Elliott. "Black Panther," the year's biggest domestic box-office hit and a bona fide cultural event, finally cracked the category long kryptonite to superheroes . Despite the overwhelming popularity of comic book movies, they had previously been shunned from Hollywood's top honor to the consternation of some industry insiders. After "The Dark Knight" was snubbed in 2009, the academy expanded the best picture category from five to up to 10 nominees. The lush, big-budget craft of "Black Panther" was rewarded with seven total nominations, including Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart's production design, Ludwig Goransson's score, Ruth Carter's costume design and Kendrick Lamar and SZA's song "All the Stars." Beachler became the first African-American nominated for production design. "To break down a wall like that, to be your ancestors' wildest dreams, to show other young women of color and boys and girls that you can do whatever you want no matter what struggles you have in your life — all of that. That's what it means to me," said Beachler, talking by phone from the Cincinnati set of Todd Haynes' latest. There has likewise been resistance among some academy members to awarding Netflix films since the company typically bypasses movie theaters. Steven Spielberg has said Netflix films are more like TV movies and deserve an Emmy, not an Oscar . Netflix altered its policy for "Roma" and the Coen brothers' "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" (which earned three unexpected nods), premiering them first in theaters before debuting them on Netflix. In turn, it was rewarded with a 15 nominations overall, second only to Disney's 17. Three decades after landing a writing nod for 1989's Do the Right Thing," Spike Lee was nominated for his first directing Oscar for "BlacKkKlansman." "Thirty years is a long time, ain't it?" Lee said by phone Tuesday with a hearty laugh. The 61-year-old filmmaker lamented the oversight of his lead actor, John David Washington, whom he consoled with a prediction of future awards: "Young blood, you'll be here." But Lee took pride in his film's six nominations, and he likes his odds. "'BlacKkKlansman' is the dark horse — pun intended," said Lee, cackling. "You know what? That's fitting. I've always been an underdog, from the very beginning, from film school. That narrative has not changed. And I like that position." The other directing nominees were Lanthimos, Cuaron, Pawel Pawlikowski ("Cold War") and McKay ("Vice") — a field that, a year after continued focus on gender inequality in Hollywood, included no female directors. Some had campaigned for Debra Granik ("Leave No Trace") or Chloe Zhao ("The Rider") to become the sixth woman ever nominated for best director. The nominations, announced by Kumail Nanjiani and Tracee Ellis Ross from the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills, California, included plenty of surprises. In a blockbuster year for documentaries , the Fred Rogers documentary "Won't You Be My Neighbor" was snubbed despite more than $22 million in ticket sales (a huge sum for a doc). Instead the nominees were "Free Solo," ''Hale County This Morning, This Evening," ''Minding the Gap," ''Of Fathers and Sons" and the Ruth Bader Ginsberg portrait "RBG." The acting categories played out largely as expected with a few notable differences. Along with Lady Gaga, Colman and Aparicio, the best lead actress nominees were Glenn Close ("The Wife") and Melissa McCarthy ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?"). In best actor, the expected front runner Christian Bale was nominated for his transformation into Cheney in "Vice" (Bale's fourth Oscar nod), along with Cooper, Willem Dafoe ("At Eternity's Gate"), Rami Malek ("Bohemian Rhapsody") and Viggo Mortensen ("Green Book"). The nominees for best supporting actress were Amy Adams ("Vice"), Marina De Tavira ("Roma"), Regina King ("If Beale Street Could Talk"), along with Stone and Weisz. Tavira was something a surprise, likely unseating Claire Foy of "First Man." But perhaps the biggest acting snub came in best supporting actor, where Timothee Chalamet, who broke through last year with "Call Me By Your Name," was left out for his drug addict turn in "Beautiful Boy." Nominated were previous winner Mahershala Ali ("Green Book"), Adam Driver ("BlacKkKlansman"), Richard E. Grant ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?") and Sam Rockwell ("Vice"), who won the trophy last year. With nominees like "The Favourite," ''Can You Ever Forgive Me," ''Green Book" and "Bohemian Rhapsody," GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis called it "a banner year for LGBTQ inclusion." Some Oscar regulars padded their career tallies. Joel and Ethan Coen notched their seventh screenwriting nomination. Close, never a winner, landed her seventh acting nod. Costume designer Sandy Powell received her 13th and 14th nominations, for "The Favourite" and "Mary Poppins Returns." But the nominees were also crowded with first-timers, including new performers (Aparicio) and veteran ones (Grant, Elliott, Colman, King). Paul Schrader, the 72-year-old "Taxi Driver" scribe, was nominated for his first Oscar for the script to his religious thriller "First Reformed." The lead-up to Tuesday's nominations was rocky for both the film academy and some of the contending movies. Shortly after being announced as host, comedian Kevin Hart was forced to withdraw over years-old homophobic tweets that the comedian eventually apologized for. That has left the Oscars, one month before the Feb. 24 ceremony, without an emcee, and likely to stay that way. Some film contenders, like "Green Book" and the Freddie Mercury biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody," have suffered waves of backlash, even as their awards have mounted. Before landing five nominations Tuesday, "Green Book" — which has been criticized for relying on racial tropes — won the top award from the Producers Guild , an honor that has been a reliable Oscar barometer. In the 10 years since the Oscars expanded its best-picture ballot, the PGA winner has gone on to win best picture eight times. Last year's Oscar telecast was watched by a record low of 26.5 million viewers . This year will at least feature a number of popular nominees, including "Black Panther," ''Bohemian Rhapsody" and "A Star Is Born." Just how many people have seen "Roma," though, remains a mystery. Netflix doesn't release box office receipts or streaming viewership. It's also an unusually international crop of nominees. It's only the second time that directors from two foreign language films were nominated for best director (Cuaron and Poland's Pawlikowski). "Roma" is aiming to be the first foreign language film to win best picture. Some of that could potentially be attributed to a changing academy, which has greatly expanded its ranks in recent years to diversify its membership, including more overseas members. Up for best foreign language film are "Roma," ''Cold War," ''Capernaum" (Lebanon), "Never Look Away" (Germany) and the Palme d'Or winner, "Shoplifters" (Japan). A year after taking home best picture with "The Shape of Water," Fox Searchlight tied Netflix with 15 nominations, even as Searchlight and its parent studio, 20th Century Fox, are in the process of being acquired by the Walt Disney Co. If their releases counted under Disney, the new mega-studio would have dwarfed all studios with 37 nominations. ___ AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr in Los Angeles contributed to this report. ___ For full coverage of the Oscars, visit: https://apnews.com/AcademyAwards


St. Lucian treats. Have you tried any?

Loop shared Barbados' sweetest treats, and now it's our sister island -Saint Lucia's turn. Most are lured by the promises of sun, sand, sea, and the romance her secluded oases offer with their nature tucked facilities. However, several sweet surprises await you on this tiny island. Saint Lucia; the only country in the world named after a woman, has an array of unique snacks that locals hold dear - passing them down from one generation to the next - and that visitors should never leave without trying. Throughout anyone's time in Saint Lucia, we recommend you complete your tropical retreat by having some of the island's most delectable local snacks. We compiled a list of 10 of the best, recommended by locals. Photo via brioscabakers.in 1) Coconut balls When making your way around Saint Lucia, you are sure to encounter at least one vendor stationed at a roadside with a pickup truck behind him/her, spilling over with coconuts. This tropical fruit is indeed in abundance in Saint Lucia, which means ample opportunity to explore unique uses. One special treat is these bite-sized balls of shaved coconut held together with vanilla extract and any form of sweetener, depending on who's in the kitchen. What makes coconut balls especially irresistible is how they erupt in your mouth with a burst of flavour, only to then melt away into sugary awesomeness. 2) Fudge Still on the matter of “melt in your mouth sweetness”, it's only right that we mention a classic and long-time favourite for many: fudge. While fudge is not unique to Saint Lucia, nor the Caribbean, nothing tastes the same everywhere! Saint Lucian fudge is a wonderful fusion of coconut milk, sugar, vanilla, and a variation of the following, dependent on who's cooking; butter, condensed milk and local spices for that special Saint Lucian kick. Eaters can count down the seconds from the moment the blended, boiled, then cooled fudge hits the tongue and then slowly oozes across the palette in tides of rich flavours. Also, Saint Lucian fudge comes in different flavours, a preference for many is to have peanut fudge. Photo via Everything St Lucian 3) Tablet If you're walking past a street vendor and spot chunks of coconut shavings, glazed in a brown, sugary coating, then you've hit the jackpot. This sweet treat, unfortunately, has turned into one of Saint Lucia's more rare delicacies as, unlike the others, you won't find it in supermarkets and it isn't associated heavily with a specific holiday or season. However, a stroll through the Castries market or across central Castries (more popularly referred to as “town') just might render you lucky. The luckiest of all, however, are those who are well acquainted with a local possessing the right culinary expertise for combining the exact amounts of vanilla extract, coconut, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and water, to whisk them up their own personal batch of Tablet. Don't be afraid to ask! It's worth it. 4) Farine and Pear You are more likely to come across this snackin Saint Luciaduring October, Creole Heritage month, and more specifically Jounen Kweyol; the last Sunday in October when Saint Lucians celebrate their Creole heritage with community and Creole food and music in heavy circulation. Farine is a derivative of cassava (a root vegetable). The cassava plant goes through a long process of being sliced, grated and parched over an open flame before it turns into “farine.”Then, it is coupled with ripe avocado and spices to taste to form this amazing treat. Photo via Everything St Lucian 5) Ice Lolly It's only right that when the heat becomes too much to bear, you cool down with a frozen treat. In Saint Lucia, an alternative to ice-cream is what locals refer to as 'Ice Lolly'. This frosty delicacy comes in a number of forms including a variety of fruit flavours and an assortment of milk-based options like peanut, coconut and vanilla—it is pretty much delicious milkshakes in a bag. Local sweet spices are of course added for an extra kick! 6) Mango/ Golden Apple in Sauce Hardly would you find a Caribbean dweller who doesn't appreciate a good, juicy, ripe mango. However, in Saint Lucia, green mangoes can also be used as a key ingredient of one of the island's most delectable snacks. Mango in sauce is made up of a rightly portioned blend of water, vinegar, lime, salt, pepper and other unique fixings—highly dependent on the maker's tastes— and of course pieces of barely ripe mango. Unlike many other treats on this list, this snack is not sweet but its sour taste will leave your mouth salivating for more. Plus, once you finish your mango, you'll be left with a bag of spicy sauce as a chaser. Golden apples are the only other variation of this tasty treat. Photo via Everything St Lucian 7) Gooseberry/ Seawet Jam Most of the world calls this tiny, green, sour fruit “gooseberry” while Saint Lucians refer to as “seawet.” While gooseberry jam is not unique to Saint Lucia, a spoonful of locally made seawet jam, boiled to perfection in cinnamon and other local spices of choice, creates an envious balance of sweet and sour. After being prepped in a large pot atop a stove, seawet jam is normally served in small portions by roadside vendors and is also quite common in Saint Lucian households provided that access to the fruit is readily available. Another special aspect of this local treat is its prolonged flavour as 'munchers' can continue sucking on the seeds to their palette's satisfaction. Photo via greenfigsandsaltfish.wordpress.com 8) Penmi Many islands in the Caribbean have a variation of this snack made up of cornmeal, milk, sugar and local spices. The ingredients are then combined, tied in a banana leaf and then boiled. It's thick consistency and sweet flavour makes it not only a favourite around the Jounen Kweyol season in October—as it is considered creole food—but year round as well. 9) Tamarind balls Another mouthwatering, sugary snack. Who needs fancy meals at gourmet restaurants for a great tasting sweet and sour culinary adventure when tamarind balls do the job just fine? Shelled tamarind, still with its seeds, get mashed together in a blend of vanilla essence, spices and sugar, during the making of this Saint Lucian snack. Nevermind its size as, for the best results, you are advised to pinch away small amounts at a time so as to avoid overpowering your palette with the sour taste of tamarind. 10) Guava Cheese Clearly fruits are a staple of many of the best Saint Lucian snacks. While the island's culinary experience has a lot more to offer, based on reviews, we couldn't ignore this all around favourite. Guava Cheese can mainly be found in various Caribbean countries and in different parts of India. In Saint Lucia, the guava fruit is peeled, boiled, then whisked together with sugar, lemon (and other ingredients to taste) before being cut into smaller squares for serving. It is also doused in sugar making it, if you are a visitor, a perfect substitute for the candy you might be missing most from back home.

Ayanna Dyette, a national volleyballer from T&T died from cervical cancer last year

A year ago, 32-year-old Trinidad and Tobago national volleyball player Ayanna Dyette was diagnosed with Stage Four cervical cancer. Her diagnosis and subsequent death shocked her family since she had never been ill, was extremely fit and always active. Now, her family is honouring her death and turning their grief into purpose with the launch of the Ayanna S Dyette Foundation. The aim of the registered Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) is to spread awareness about cervical cancer and to educate women about the importance of getting pap smears. According to a PAHO and World Health Organisation Plan of Action for cervical cancer prevention and control 2018-2030, each year in the Americas an estimated 83,200 women are newly diagnosed and 35,680 women die from this disease, a significant proportion (52percent) of them under 60 years of age. Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. Cervical cancer is preventable through HPV vaccination and also with screening and treatment of precancerous lesions, it can be effectively treated if diagnosed in its early stages. “We realise from our journey last year January to July and more so after, that a lot of people don’t seem to be aware of the disease to the extent that they need to get their checks done,” said Dyette’s sister Wendy Ribeiro, recalling an encounter she and her daughter Paige had with a cashier at a coffee house who never even heard of a pap smear. A pap smear is an examination of the cervix in which cells are collected for testing. Dyette’s last Pap smear was in 2010. Ribeiro said at that visit she was advised to go back in six months but never did. In July 2017, she started experiencing heavy bleeding during her period, which was abnormal. The gynecologist told her she had fibroids. She did not get a pap smear done at the time because of the heavy bleeding. Months passed and Dyette’s condition worsened. “She was not her normal bubbly self, she was not as energetic and she stayed home a lot, which was unlike her because she was a party hard type of individual. In September she sought another diagnosis and that doctor reconfirmed the fibroids diagnosis and was even prepping her for surgery, he never gave her a pap smear either,” said Ribeiro. It wasn’t until Dyette’s excruciating pain landed her at the Port-of-Spain General Hospital that cervical cancer was diagnosed. She was Stage Four. She spent the week of her birthday on January 10 at the hospital and after she was discharged spent the rest of her life undergoing chemotherapy and radiation and eventually surgery at the Southern Medical Centre in San Fernando. “At the Southern Medical Centre that is where she did all of her treatment, chemo, radiation and brachytherapy. The service was second to none. They were like family to us. Of course,it was a physically draining time for the family, she had to go for radiation five days a week, Monday to Friday, and she developed a lot of complications. She had kidney issues, her intestines were compromised and she had multiple blood transfusions. With the brachytherapy Dr Kumar fought, he gave a lot of love but the cancer spread really quickly,” said Wendy. Dyette died at the Vitas House Hospice. “That was an experience and a half,” said Paige. “She used to get frustrated and she would apologise but even at the Hospice she had hope even then that she would survive,” she said, recalling that down to the end, Dyette, who loved food, did not change, asking for chocolate cake, ice cream and pizza, which she enjoyed until the end. The women find consolation in the belief that Dyette’s death was meant to openthe door to educate the population about cervical cancer. Through the Foundation they plan to target everyone, young and old, male and female, especially when it comes to understanding how HPV is transmitted. “We do plan to encourage the HPV vaccination for boys and girls since HPV also causes other cancers that can affect men,” said Paige. The Foundation is working with PSI Caribbean to help spread the message and plan to approach the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society as well. They also plan to spread their message through the Just Because Foundation and to hold talks in schools and office across the country. Cervical Cancer Awareness week runs from January 21 to 27.


FILE - This Saturday, March 24, 2018, file photo, shows a sign at a Starbucks in the U.S. Starbucks is expanding its delivery service and aims to offer it at nearly one-fourth of its U.S. company-operated coffee shops. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Starbucks is expanding its delivery service and aims to offer it at nearly one-fourth of its U.S. company-operated coffee shops. The company said it is launching the service Tuesday in San Francisco and will expand to some stores in New York, Boston, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles in coming weeks. It tested the idea in 200 Miami stores last fall. Starbucks says 95 percent of its core menu will be available for order using the Uber Eats mobile app. There will be a $2.49 booking fee. In December, company executives laid out plans to expand deliveries in the U.S. and China this year. Executives say delivery works best in dense urban areas where Uber Eats' delivery fees are lower because of high demand, and customers spend more than they do in stores.

In this Jan. 17, 2019, photo, women take a selfie as others tour at the Yu Garden decorated with pig statues for Lunar New Year in Shanghai. China’s 2018 economic growth fell to a three-decade low as activity cooled amid a tariff war with Washington. (Chinatopix via AP)

China's economic growth hit a three-decade low in 2018, adding to pressure on Beijing to beef up stimulus measures and settle a tariff war with Washington. Growth slowed to 6.6 percent from 2017's 6.9 percent as both the world's appetite for China's exports and domestic consumer spending weakened, official data showed Monday. Forecas9ters said they expect Beijing to try to shore up growth by making credit cheaper, raising government spending and adopting measures to encourage sales of autos and consumer goods. Communist leaders want to steer China toward slower, more self-sustaining growth driven by consumer spending instead of trade and investment. But the slowdown has been sharper than expected, prompting Beijing to boost spending on construction of roads and bridges and to order banks to lend more, especially to the entrepreneurs who generate most of China's new jobs and wealth. "Downward pressure on the economy is increasing," the commissioner of the National Bureau of Statistics, Ning Jizhe, said at a news conference. He cited import controls, volatile financial markets and declining investment spending as factors. Still, Ning insisted China can resist shocks, saying "the long-term trend of stability will not change." Economic growth in 2018 was the lowest since 1990's 3.9 percent following the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Growth in the last quarter of 2018 dipped to 6.4 percent — the lowest quarterly level since the 2008 global crisis — from the previous quarter's 6.5 percent. "The government is expected to implement more fiscal and monetary stimulus measures to support economic growth," Yanjun Lin of IHS Markit said in a report. Growth in investment, retail spending and factory activity all declined, though analysts pointed to a flicker of improvement in manufacturing in December. It grew by 5.7 percent over a year earlier, up 0.3 percentage points from November. Production of plastics, metals and specialized industrial machinery accelerated, "suggesting warming expectations for a pick-up in investment," Chaoping Zhu of J.P. Morgan Asset Management said in a report. The trade dispute with the U.S. is proving costly. Exports held up through most of 2018 despite President Donald Trump's tariff hikes on Chinese imports in a fight over Beijing's technology ambitions. But they contracted in December as the penalties began to depress U.S. demand. The two sides have imposed tariff hikes of up to 25 percent on tens of billions of dollars of each other's goods in the fight over U.S. complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. Washington wants China to roll back plans for state-led industry development that its trading partners say violate its market-opening obligations. The trade dispute, and reports of job losses and tumbling sales of autos and real estate, have unnerved Chinese consumers that Beijing is counting on to drive growth. As pocketbooks snap shut, the downturn could worsen. China's top trade envoy, Vice Premier Liu He, is due to visit Washington for talks Jan. 30-31. Business groups and economists said a decision by Liu and his American counterpart, Robert Lighthizer, to get directly involved would suggest earlier talks by lower-level officials made progress. Trump said Saturday that trade relations with China were "going very well" and "a deal could very well happen." Forecasters expect Chinese growth to bottom out this year as Beijing's stimulus efforts gain traction. However, they have pushed back the time frame for that due to weakening exports. Public works spending "is shaping up to be the engine for 2019," Iris Pang of ING said in a report. "However, non-infrastructure business activities will be dismal this year. And debt will grow." A meeting of Communist Party leaders in December promised tax cuts, better access to bank lending for entrepreneurs and other steps to help the private sector. Chinese leaders have been warning that any recovery would be "L-shaped," meaning that companies and investors shouldn't expect growth to rebound to the previous decade's double-digit levels. Forecasters expect growth to decline further this year to 6.3 percent or lower. "China's economy is likely to weaken further before growth stabilizes in the second half of the year on the back of expanded policy stimulus," Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a report.