ATLANTA • Trade ministers from a dozen Pacific nations meeting in Atlanta have extended talks on a sweeping trade deal until today in a bid to get a final agreement on the most ambitious trade pact in a generation.
Officials extended the talks, originally scheduled to end on Thursday, in a determined effort to produce a breakthrough on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which will liberalise trade in 40 per cent of the world economy in a region stretching from Vietnam to Canada.
"No one wants to leave without an agreement," Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said.
Observers pointed to progress on vehicles, Canada's pledge to compensate farmers hurt by imports and signs of a compromise on patent protection for new drugs as evidence of advancement.
"We are starting to see the path to an agreement and have agreed to make final efforts," Japanese Economy Minister Akira Amari told reporters.
Several officials said a final deal could come quickly if key issues - intellectual property protection for medicines and trade in dairy and vehicles - are resolved. The alternative would be for ministers to try to reconvene next month, although that risks losing momentum in a process that has already run five years.
An agreement would be a legacy-defining achievement for US President Barack Obama. But the trade deal is seen as a threat by an array of interest groups from Mexican car workers and Quebec dairy farmers to cancer patients who worry that it could push the cost of new therapies out of reach.
In a re-assertion of concern in Congress, a group of US lawmakers from both parties sent a letter to US Trade Representative Michael Froman and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday.
"We urge you to take the time necessary to get the best deal possible for the United States, working closely with us," said the letter signed by House Ways and Means Committee chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, as well as the senior Democrats on those two committees.
Several Republicans attacked a new US proposal to ensure governments would be free to enact anti-smoking measures without fear of legal action by tobacco firms.
Mr Guajardo said talks on vehicle trade had progressed but were not over yet. The issue is crucial for Japan, whose carmakers, led by Toyota, depend on sales in the US market and want flexibility on sourcing of parts.
But Mexico, which has experienced a boom in vehicle-related investment over the past two decades, wants to protect its manufacturers against increased competition from Asia.