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EU ready to begin trade talks with US

LUXEMBOURG — The European Union worked around French objections on Friday to agree on a free-trade negotiating mandate for sweeping talks with the United States that President Obama wants to open next week.

Under Friday’s deal, trade ministers agreed to France’s demand to keep its movie and television industry out of the hotly anticipated trans-Atlantic talks. But they said they could possibly come back to debate it at a later time, meaning the deeply divisive issue could resurface.

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The outcome should allow Obama and his EU counterparts to announce the start of negotiations for a deal expected to provide a big boost to growth and jobs by eliminating tariffs and other barriers that have long plagued economic relations.

A free-trade pact would create a market with common standards and regulations across countries that together account for nearly half of the global economy.

France’s longstanding objections, which turned a simple ministerial meeting into a 12-hour negotiating marathon, showed the challenges ahead. Within the European Union alone, there is a rift with some nations big on protecting struggling sectors with subsidies and more pro-free-trade member states. Beyond the audiovisual sector, major problems are expected to emerge over agriculture and transport.

Friday night though, Finland’s European affairs minister, Alexander Stubb, tweeted optimistically about the prospect of trans-Atlantic negotiations: ‘‘Play ball!’’ he wrote.

All other EU nations have vowed to protect the culture industry, as well, but the large majority nevertheless wanted it to be part of the talks. They fear that removing it would set off tit-for-tat claims on both sides.

France’s trade minister, Nicole Bricq, said that the Americans already had staked out an issue which was off limits.

‘‘Frankly, I met the Americans in Washington and it is clear that they too want exclusions — on the financial services,’’ she said.

Even though EU negotiator Karel De Gucht could try to bring the audiovisual sector back into the talks, France would always have a veto to keep it out if it wanted.

An EU-commissioned study shows that a trade pact could boost the 27-country bloc’s economic output by $159 billion a year and the US economy’s by $127 billion.

Another estimate showed eliminating tariffs alone would add $180 billion to US and EU gross domestic product in five years while boosting exports on both sides by 17 percent. That could add about 0.5 percent annually to the EU’s GDP and 1 percent to the United States’s.

For Europe in particular, that extra growth would be crucial to help pay high public debt and bring down unemployment, which is at record highs.

‘‘An EU-US agreement could potentially represent 400,000 jobs in the EU, so that’s a prize really worth working for,’’ said Irish Enterprise Minister Richard Bruton, who chaired Friday’s EU meeting.

‘‘It is an opportunity both for the United States and the EU. It’s time is now,’’ Bruton said.

Tariffs between the EU and the United States are already relatively low, averaging 5 percent to 7 percent. But the pact would have huge benefits because of the sheer size of the market — bilateral trade is worth $1 trillion annually, the largest commercial relationship in the world.

The best-case timetable for completing the pact is the end of 2014. However, for many experts, that is overly optimistic and the consensus is it will take a few years.

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