The United States has confirmed its commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement negotiations, with one of its most senior representatives saying enthusiasm is high and likely to rise.
The aim of the negotiations, which started earlier this year, is to extend the existing P4 trade agreement between New Zealand, Brunei, Chile and Singapore to include the US, Australia, Peru and Vietnam.
That would create a vast and powerful free trade area with huge benefits for New Zealand.
United States Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Kurt Campbell, said in Wellington yesterday the commitment was there to reach a deal.
"I think the level of enthusiasm in the United States for the TPP remains high and will go up in the future," Dr Campbell said.
"I think hopes are high for this pact, but at the same time I think there is a recognition that trade talks are tough, they are difficult, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us."
Dr Campbell said there was strong support for Korea to be brought into the TPP as well and referred to the position held by President Barack Obama.
"I think you will see very clearly that he and his administration recognises that the United States has to play a substantial role in the economic drama that is playing out in the Asia-Pacific region," Dr Campbell told reporters.
Dr Campbell was in Wellington en route to the Pacific Island Forum meeting in Vanuatu, which Prime Minister John Key is attending.
Today, on the sidelines of the meeting, Dr Campbell will hold tripartite talks with New Zealand and Australia.
It will be the first time in decades that tripartite discussions have been held and Dr Campbell said the New Zealand-United States relationship was set to move up to the next level "or maybe the next two levels even".
"You are going to see a very deliberate effort on the part of the United States to work more closely with New Zealand as a recognition of the role that New Zealand is playing in global politics," he said.
"We think, given our shared commitments to the Pacific, given our common heritage, given the fact that our soldiers -- as we witnessed tragically today -- are serving and dying together, don't we owe them the ability to sit down and talk about our mutual challenges? I think the answer is a resounding 'yes' to that."