February 19, 2019 / 9:46 AM / 9 months ago

EU parliament committee backs start of U.S. trade talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union lawmakers voted on Tuesday to start negotiations with the United States over lower tariffs for industrial goods, a deal designed to ease trade tension with the Trump administration.

FILE PHOTO: Workers assemble vehicles on the SEAT assembly line in Martorell, near Barcelona, Spain, October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Albert Gea -/File Photo

The European Parliament’s international trade committee voted 21 to 17 on a resolution encouraging EU governments to back negotiating mandates put forward by the European Commission.

The resolution now goes to a vote by the full chamber in March. It is not binding but will have a bearing on possible talks with Washington, since parliament would have to approve any deal agreed.

The final text, broadly supported by center-right parties but opposed by the left of center, also set out conditions for negotiations: they are to include cars and car parts, exclude agriculture and should be suspended if Washington imposes new punitive tariffs, such as on EU car imports.

EU steel and aluminum is already subject to protective U.S. import duties.

The Commission’s negotiating mandates, published last month, are more notable for what they leave out than what they include.

The EU proposes reducing tariffs on industrial goods like machinery and materials. The United States has a wide-ranging wish list, including comprehensive agricultural market access.

The two sides ended a stand-off of several months in July, when U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to hold off imposing tariffs on EU car imports while the two sides looked to improve trade ties.

They committed to work toward removing tariffs on “non-auto industrial goods”, discuss ways to agree on product standards to boost trade and increase EU imports of U.S. soybeans and liquefied natural gas.

The two EU negotiating mandates will need to be approved by EU governments. One looks into removing tariffs from industrial goods, the other into rules to allow U.S. testing bodies to clear products for sale in the European Union and vice versa.

EU ministers responsible for trade will discuss the mandates at a meeting in Bucharest on Friday, aware that Trump’s patience is not infinite.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Sunday sent a report to Trump that could lead to steep tariffs on imported cars and auto parts. The contents of the report were not disclosed, but it is expected to conclude that cars imports are a matter of national security, warranting action.

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Larry King

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