Trade ministers negotiating the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement in Singapore say more talks are needed but the "end is in sight."
It was earlier hoped deal would be settled before the end of this year.
After four days of meetings in Singapore, New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser issued a statement on behalf of all ministers saying that "substantial advances" had been made.
“My colleagues and I were able to make good progress across the negotiating agenda, keeping true to the objectives leaders have set for the negotiation. In many areas we have identified potential landing zones that will guide the final phase of work.”
A further meeting will be held in January, when these "landing zone" issues such as market access, especially for agricultural products, environmental protections and intellectual property will remain to be finished.
While more work remains to be done, Mr Groser says momentum is accelerating and he is confident conclusion of a "comprehensive, high quality, 21st century agreement" is in sight.
“However, we will not short change ourselves. We will take as long as needed to achieve a deal that eliminates trade barriers for New Zealand exporters and can advance our vision of regional economic integration in the Asia Pacific. The gains a high quality TPP would generate for the New Zealand economy demand we get this right.”
Most observers now expect an agreement by March. Mr Groser’s comments are backed by US Trade Representative Michael Froman.
"It's easy to get a quick agreement: you just drop the level of ambition. There was no temptation to do that," he says.
The talks in Singapore followed a World Trade Organisation summit in Bali last week at which the 159 member economies agreed to cut customs red tape. It was the first WTO deal since the global trade body was formed in 1995.
The countries negotiating the TPP are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the US and Vietnam.