Picture: 123RF/JAN MIKS
Picture: 123RF/JAN MIKS

Brussels — EU countries provisionally agreed the start of formal trade negotiations with the US on Thursday, EU sources said, a move designed but not guaranteed to smooth strained relations between the world's two largest economies.

The European Commission, which co-ordinates trade policy for the 28-member EU, had sought clearance for two negotiating mandates — one to cut tariffs on industrial goods, the other to make it easier for companies to show their products meet EU or US standards.

EU sources said ambassadors agreed to the mandates at a meeting on Thursday. This will need to be put to national ministers for formal approval, although they would normally do so without debate. Agriculture ministers of the 28 EU countries will meet in Brussels on Monday.

The EU and the US reached a detente last July when US President Donald Trump agreed to hold off imposing punitive tariffs on EU cars as the two sides sought to improve economic ties.

However, US tariffs still apply to EU steel and aluminium, while on Tuesday Trump threatened to impose further tariffs on $11bn worth of EU products related to a long-running aircraft subsidy dispute.