EU lawmakers vote in favour of negotiating sweeping free trade agreement with the US

BRUSSELS – European Union lawmakers have voted in favour of starting talks on a wide-ranging free trade agreement with the United States.

A parliamentary committee on Thursday voted 23-5 to endorse the negotiation mandate for the European Commission, the executive arm of the 27-country bloc.

Lawmakers also voted an amendment calling for the exclusion of cultural services. The vote is non-binding at this stage but any agreement ultimately needs Parliament’s approval.

Experts say a deal can foster growth and jobs by lowering tariffs and removing other trade barriers for most industries. Together the EU and the U.S. account for almost half the world economy.

The negotiations are expected to be arduous, not least because of disagreements over agriculture.

EU officials hope to reach a deal before the end of next year.