The European Union and the U.K. are preparing to enter an intense phase of negotiations starting next week aimed at overcoming the dispute over their post-Brexit trading relationship well ahead of the anniversary of Northern Ireland’s peace agreement in April, according to people familiar with the matter.

The aim is to move into a negotiating "tunnel" after U.K. foreign minister James Cleverly and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic take stock of talks on Jan. 16, said the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.

Cleverly and Sefcovic announced earlier this week that the EU had agreed to use the U.K.’s live database tracking goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. This was a first sign of progress in a long-running dispute on post-Brexit trading rules and a step that paves the way for negotiations on other more complex issues, such as checks on agri-food goods, state aid and VAT.