US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, center, and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Beijing earlier this year. Photo: AFP / Mark Schiefelbein

Trade negotiators attempting to broker an agreement between the world’s two largest economies are eyeing a signing ceremony in late May or early June, according to a report on Wednesday afternoon, with new rounds of in-person meetings planned in both capitals before then.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is slated to travel to Beijing the week of April 29, The Wall Street Journal reported, with his Chinese counterpart in the negotiations, Liu He, set to return to Washington the week of May 6.

A source with knowledge of the tentative plans said that the trade teams have missed previous deadlines, but are now looking at potentially agreeing on a final written contract in time for Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping to consummate an agreement at the end of May.

Following a meeting with Liu early this month, Trump said that a deal could be ready in four weeks.

Since then, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin touted progress on one of the most difficult remaining issues in the talks, the question of how to enforce a deal. But his mention of a reciprocal enforcement mechanism that would allow Beijing to unilaterally enforce compliance, has also raised concerns within the United States that it would expose US firms to retaliation without the ability to seek recourse through a third party such as the World Trade Organization.

China has insisted that any enforcement mechanism must be reciprocal.

Despite lingering questions, analysts expect that Trump is eager to sell the deal, which is likely to include a multi-year pledge to buy US agricultural products, to US voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

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