BRUSSELS • European Union countries yesterday overruled France and gave the green light for Brussels to open trade talks with Washington as soon as possible and defuse trans-Atlantic tensions.
The EU's 28 member states had struggled for months to agree on a mandate to open the talks, with some fearing the delay would restart a trade war with US President Donald Trump.
But EU ministers meeting in Luxembourg approved a mandate to negotiate "an agreement limited to the elimination of tariffs for industrial goods only" and another accord that is designed to remove non-tariff barriers.
The ministers added that the mandate would exclude agriculture products, which EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said amounted to a "red line" for Europe.
US officials have said that farm products should be included.
"I will now get in contact with our American partners with a view to organising a date for the first round as soon as possible," Ms Malmstrom told a press conference in Brussels. "If we agree to start, I think it can go quite quickly."
The Trade Commissioner underlined the determination of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to finish the talks before its five-year term ends on Oct 31.
The mandate from the EU stipulates that the talks would end if the United States were to pursue more levies against Europe, including on cars.