The EU said it was committed to the agenda agreed by US president Donald Trump and Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on 25 July 2018.
The Commission welcomed the agreement, with Mr Juncker saying they wanted to "slash tariffs on industrial products", as this could lead to an additional increase in EU and U.S. exports worth around EUR 26 billion.
Trade Commission Cecilia Malmstroem added that the decision would "help ease trade tensions". She said the EU was now "ready to start formal talks for these two targeted agreements that will bring tangible benefits for people and economies on both sides of the Atlantic."
The Council approved mandates for the Commission to open negotiations with the United States on two agreements:
- a trade agreement limited to the elimination of tariffs for industrial goods only, excluding agricultural products;
- an agreement on conformity assessment that would have as its objective the removal of non-tariff barriers, by making it easier for companies to prove their products meet technical requirements both in the EU and the US while maintaining a high level of protection in the EU.
The Council also decided to make both decisions authorising the opening of negotiations with the US and the accompanying negotiating directives public.
The EU will cover a strictly limited set of issues stemming from the July Joint Statement. The talks will not cover agriculture or public procurement, but "the environmental and social impact of the agreement will be fully taken into account during the negotiations," said Romania's Trade Minister Stefan-Radu Oprea, for the EU presidency.
The Commission will negotiate on behalf of the EU, and the final agreement will need be concluded by the Council after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
As far as the agreement on the elimination of industrial tariffs is concerned, the objective is to increase trade between the EU and the US, to improve market access and to generate new opportunities for jobs and growth. The mandate given by the Council ensures that negotiations will take full account of particular sensitivities for certain goods, such as energy-intensive products and fisheries products, as well as the environmental impact arising from the differences in the EU and US regulatory frameworks.
The Commission has to produce a sustainability impact assessment to examine the potential economic, environmental and social impacts of this agreement, also in light of the commitments of the EU in international agreements such as the Paris agreement on climate change. The findings of this impact assessment should be taken into account in the negotiating process.
The mandate also ensures that the EU will not conclude negotiations with the US as long as the current tariffs on EU exports of steel and aluminium remain in place, and that it would be able to suspend negotiations unilaterally if the US were to impose further trade restrictions against European products.
The EU and the US have the largest and deepest bilateral trade and investment relationship in the world and have highly integrated economies. Both economies account together for about half the entire world GDP and for nearly one third of total world trade.