The European Union has given final clearance for trade talks to begin with the US, despite differences on climate and agriculture policies.
The European Commission, which coordinates trade policy for the union, approved negotiations on two tracks: one to cut tariffs on industrial goods, the other making it easier for companies to show their products meet EU or US standards.
Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said: “We’re convinced from the EU side that this agreement will be win-win, like all trade deals should be.”
She said the removal of tariffs on industrial goods, for example, could increase EU exports to the US by 8% and US exports to the EU by 9%.
Before Monday, one of the potential roadblocks had been agriculture, with the US wanting to break down tariffs and sell its products in the EU’s heavily-subsidised farming sector.
America had demanded that agriculture be part of the negotiations but Ms Malmstrom said they would “certainly not” be.
She added: “This is a red line for Europe and you’ll not find any mention of this in our mandate.
“This was discussed by the presidents in Washington and we clearly agreed that will not be part of the talks.”
France had been the only country to vote against the move and Belgium abstained.
Germany was keen to push ahead with the talks, hopeful of avoiding US tariffs on Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes-maker Daimler.
More than half of the EU’s exports of cars and parts to the US are German.
France’s main concern had been climate, following US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he was pulling out of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The landmark accord set ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and limiting temperature change.
French President Emmanuel Macron had said Europe should not negotiate a trade deal with any country not part of the agreement.
Ms Malmstrom said there would be an assessment of the economic, environmental and social impact of any trade agreement, which would take climate concerns into account.
France’s opposition was not enough to stop the talks going ahead but, as every member state must sign off on EU trade deals, it could block any resulting agreement.
Ms Malmstrom said there was no date agreed for the talks but that she hoped they could begin “as soon as possible – Europe is ready”.
When asked what part the UK would play, following a decision to delay Brexit until the end of October, she said: “As long as the UK is a member of the union they will, of course, be as adequately informed and engaged as any other.”
Trade talks between the EU and US first started in 2013 but were suspended three years later after Mr Trump won the US presidency.
Together, their economies account for about half the world’s GDP and nearly a third of world trade flows.
(c) Sky News 2019: European Union agrees to start trade talks with the US