SYDNEY: Australia's trade minister said today the last negotiating stages of a massive Pacific trade pact were "very difficult", with the deal more likely to fail when the US presidential election cycle kicks in.
Australia and 11 other Asia-Pacific countries have for more than five years been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement that would encompass 40 per cent of global trade.
The most recent round of talks -- billed to be the last -- failed to reach aagreement in late July.
"I think it's still doable," Andrew Robb told the National Press Club in Canberra. "We did really get very close but... the last few yards are very difficult."
Robb said if two key issues -- auto trade and dairy --were resolved, it would only take several days of negotiations to seal the deal but the timing of such agreements was crucial.
"Canada is into an election already. So there are some complications and the closer we get to a US presidential election, the more prospect of it falling over," he said.
"If we don't shake on it, my experience in doing deals in business and in government over nearly 40 years is that the chances are it will fall apart. We won't get back to it."
US Secretary of State John Kerry said last week in Vietnam, one of the nations involved in negotiations, that he was hopeful of securing a deal by the end of the year.
But several major stumbling blocks remain, including differences over agricultural markets, auto trade and protection for drug-makers.
Robb said that while Australia had made a "huge contribution" to the talks, the success of the negotiations depended on bigger players such as the US, Japan and Mexico.
The US, the pact's chief advocate, has said that TPP -- also involving Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam but not powerhouse China -- would reap benefits beyond economic growth.