BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union and Japanese plans to form the world's largest free trade area cleared a significant hurdle on Monday when EU lawmakers specialising in trade backed a deal that could enter force next year.
The European Parliament's international trade committee voted 25 in favour to 10 against to send the deal to the parliament's full chamber for a vote in December.
An agreement would bind two economies accounting for about a third of global gross domestic product and also signal their rejection of protectionism.
Both have faced trade tensions with Washington and remain subject to tariffs imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump on imports of steel and aluminium.
Japan had been part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump rejected on his first day in office, turning Tokyo's focus to other potential partners - such as the European Union.
The EU has also sought other partners after freezing TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) negotiations, also concluding an updated trade deal with Mexico earlier this year.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)