US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (center) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping next to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Photo: AFP

After at least one report indicated this week that the world might have to wait until June before a trade deal is reached between Washington and Beijing, there is finally some concrete news on the matter.

The Trump administration’s top two negotiators in the ongoing trade talks with China, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, are heading back to Beijing next week, administration officials are reportedly saying.

The Wall Street Journal first reported the development, after testimony from both of those top officials to Congress last week that talks are in the final stages.

Sources also said that China’s lead negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, would head to Washington the following week and that both sides were eyeing a date in late April to finalize an agreement.

Lighthizer stressed to US lawmakers last week that the deal would be comprehensive, in excess of 100 pages long, and that no assurances of the timing or nature of the negotiations could be given to anxious businesses.

“There still are major, major issues that have to be resolved,” Lighthizer said, adding: “I can’t predict success at this point.”

Administration officials have said that a deal cannot be finalized until US President Donald Trump meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. There had been speculation of movement toward holding such a summit as far back as early March.

The issue of an enforcement mechanism has been raised as one of the final sticking points that will take more time to resolve. Lighthizer indicated that including a provision allowing the US to impose new tariffs in response to non-compliance with any agreement would be one possible option. China, meanwhile, has contended that any enforcement mechanism must “go in both directions.”

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