By Josh Zumbrun
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said U.S. negotiators are likely to travel to Beijing soon to continue negotiations with China and signaled that trade disputes with two other trading partners are close to being resolved.
Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday in Washington, Mr. Mnuchin said the administration is making progress in resolving steel and aluminum tariffs that were applied to Canada and Mexico.
The tariffs weren't resolved during negotiations over a new trade agreement between the three countries that resulted in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Key lawmakers have signaled they will not vote for the USMCA trade agreement unless the steel and aluminum tariffs against Canada and Mexico are removed.
Mr. Mnuchin said "I think we are close to an understanding with Mexico and Canada" on resolving the steel and aluminum tariffs, and that resolving the tariffs is "a very important part of passing USMCA."
Asked after the hearing if his comments meant the U.S. was unilaterally lifting the tariffs, Mr. Mnuchin said: "I didn't say we were lifting tariffs. What I said is that we're trying to resolve the tariff issues as part of the agreement with USMCA. That's something we're focused on."
Speaking about the trade talks with Beijing, Mr. Mnuchin said that as of a few weeks ago, negotiators were "very close to a historic agreement with China that would be good for us and good for them," but that since then "things had gone in a different direction."
The U.S. has accused China of backsliding on its position in the trade negotiations. Mr. Trump responded last week by raising tariffs on $200 billion a year of Chinese imports and China retaliated on Monday.
Still, Mr. Mnuchin said that he and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the president's top trade negotiator, had a constructive meeting last week with China's vice premier, Liu He, who has led the negotiations from China's side.
He said the U.S. team is "most likely to go to Beijing at some point in the near future to continue those discussions," but didn't say exactly who would be in that delegation or how soon the talks would be held.
Negotiators for both nations are discussing specific dates for the trip, said people familiar with the planning. The U.S. team could go to Beijing as early as next week, but more likely shortly after that.
Mr. Mnuchin said Mr. Trump intends to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping at a summit of the heads of state of the G-20 nations in Japan at the end of June.
"I can assure you that President Trump is determined that we have free and fair trade and wants to have a fair relationship with rules," Mr. Mnuchin told the committee.
Write to Josh Zumbrun at Josh.Zumbrun@wsj.com