TRADE ministers from 12 countries including Australia are hopeful of sealing a major Pacific Rim trade and investment deal covering 40 per cent of the global economy this week in the United States.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership meeting in Atlanta is being billed as the final stage of negotiations on difficult issues including sugar and dairy market access in North America, rules of origin for car manufacturers, intellectual property rights for prescription drugs and investment protection treaties.
After failing to conclude the TPP at Hawaii in July, ministers are acutely aware their meeting beginning Wednesday may be the final chance to sign a pact, ahead of a tight election in Canada next month and the ramp up of the US presidential election campaign.
Prior to departing for Atlanta, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the window for concluding a high-quality TPP was closing given time pressures such as the US electoral cycle and the Canada election.
"Notwithstanding, a conclusion remains within imminent reach," Mr Robb said. "There are unresolved issues, but hopefully these aren't intractable."
"We have taken provisional decisions on perhaps 90 per cent of issues and as a result of these alone Australia would see some most material benefits," he said.
The TPP is a proposed accord that would set sweeping new rules for trade, investment, intellectual property, labour and the environment. The 12 TPP countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
Trade and investment Minister Andrew Robb is due to represent Australia at the TPP talks.
Mr Robb, urged on by National Party MPs in Queensland, has been jostling with US counterpart Mike Froman to win a substantial lift in the 87,000 tonne sugar quota in the US for Australian sugar growers.
A mooted TPP deal was skittled in Hawaii in July, when participants were left blindsided by an eleventh-hour revolt by Mexico and Canada over a deal struck by the US and Japan on the proportion of local parts required in new cars covered by the TPP.
US President Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke on the telephone last week, to iron out differences over the rules of origin for car makers.
Earlier this month Mr Obama said he was upbeat about the possibility of sealing a TPP deal this year.
"I'm confident that we can get it done, and I believe we can get it done this year," he said, according to a report by Bloomberg News. But the President acknowledged that "the politics around trade are tough."
The US has leaned on Australia to lengthen the data exclusivity for drugs known as biologics, from five years, closer to 12 years. Biologics are medical treatments derived from biological sources including vaccines, blood, anti-toxins, human cells, proteins and antibodies.
Chief trade negotiators from the 12 Pacific Rim nations recommenced face-to-face talks over the weekend in Atlanta, ahead of the ministers arriving midweek for a planned final two days of high-stakes discussions.
Joshua Meltzer, a former trade official at the Australian embassy in Washington and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said all parties were clear Atlanta needed to be the final meeting to complete the "clear and narrow issues".
"The US is also thinking about the timing of passing TPP through Congress," Dr Meltzer said.
President Obama is required to give Congress 90 days notice before he signs a deal and must publicly release the agreement 60 days before signing.
That timetable carries the risk of the TPP being swept up in populist anti-free trade sentiment in presidential primary season.
Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton has declined to support the TPP, a tactic widely seen as appeasing trade unions and leftist voters worried the deal will increase the importation of cheap goods from Asia and cost local blue collar jobs.
WITH JOANNA MATHER