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EU aims for trade talks with US in early 2019

Brussels - Eyeing the threat of auto tariffs, several EU ministers said Friday they will seek to start trade negotiations with the US in coming months.

The two sides have been working on a framework for a future agreement ever since US President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker met in July to try and defuse trade tensions.

A statement issued after that meeting referenced the potential abolition of tariffs, non-tariff barriers, and subsidies for industrial goods.

At the start of a meeting Friday to discuss trade, ministers called for quick movement on negotiations, suggesting that Trump might turn his attention back to trade now that the US midterm elections are over.

"It's important we speed up the process," said Austrian Economic Affairs Minister Margarete Schramboeck, whose country chairs the rotating EU presidency. "Time is not our friend."

The European Commission would need a mandate for formal talks, requiring input from the EU member states and European Parliament.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said this work ahead of talks "can be quite quick," and that all sides "have made a lot of preparation."

EU member states would need to give a mandate to the European Commission by early next year, she added.

The US-EU trade dispute erupted in June with the introduction of US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, leading to the introduction of EU tariffs on US products.

That led to the meeting between Trump and Juncker and resulting detente. But the EU remains concerned about the potential threat of new tariffs on its exports.