The reference to "sufficient progress" being required in the divorce talks before moving on to trade may be interpreted in London as a welcome signal that the Brexit deal does not have to be finalised before negotiations on future relations begin.
"Once and only once we have achieved sufficient progress on the withdrawal, can we discuss the framework for our future relationship", EU Council President Donald Tusk said in Valletta, Malta.
In a nine-page draft document, the European Union said it was willing to discuss a future trade deal before the exit talks had been completed, but only if "sufficient progress" was made in the first phase of discussions "towards reaching a satisfactory agreement on the arrangements for an orderly withdrawal".
British Prime Minister Theresa May - her eyes on the two-year countdown until the deadline for Britain's ultimate exit - had called for divorce talks and negotiations on a new trade deal to proceed simultaneously. May said she wants those to start "alongside" those on the withdrawal treaty while the EU's official line is that it wants to hold off until divorce terms are clear.Also under scrutiny will be what Tusk says on the terms of a transition period, on the assumption a free trade pact can not be concluded for some years after 2019.
The British government on Thursday said thousands of European Union laws on everything from workers' rights to the environment will be scrapped or replaced with United Kingdom equivalents to provide "clarity and certainty" to the people on the country's plans after exiting the economic bloc. "There is no way around it." he said.
April 27 - European Union affairs ministers of the 27 - the General Affairs Council or GAC - meet in Luxembourg to prepare EU27 summit.
The head of the rotating European Union presidency, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, insisted the negotiations "will not be a war".More news: Roger Federer wins Miami title to complete hard court sweep — ATP Miami
Tusk said the European Union would seek to minimise the cost to European Union citizens and businesses and that Brussels wanted an orderly withdrawal for Britain.
May repeated that phrase four times in her six-page letter formally triggering Article 50 Wednesday, underscoring the importance that she places on implementing what she called a new "deep and special partnership" before the United Kingdom breaks free from the bloc.
'We already miss you, ' Tusk said.
The EU has proclaimed its unity on Brexit, even as it reels from one of its biggest members becoming the first to start withdrawal negotiations, in the bloc's 60th anniversary year. "It's in our interests as much as anybody else's and we hope this will be one of the ways in which we can continue to work very closely (with the EU) in a deep and special partnership", he added.
He added: "Our partners are wise and decent partners and this is why I'm absolutely sure that no-one is interested in using security co-operation as a bargaining chip". "There's a lot of good will, willingness to achieve what the prime minister has said she wants to achieve", he said.
In the first signs of a business fall-out since May's Brexit notification, the prestigious Lloyd's of London insurance market said it would open a new Brussels subsidiary to ensure smooth operations in the EU.
A Downing Street spokesman, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, said the E.U.'s stance shows that "both sides wish to approach these talks constructively".