The White House sent a strong signal Monday of its desire to create a huge Pacific free trade area, despite the slippage of its year-end deadline for the 12-nation project.
President Barack Obama gathered senior trade advisors in the Oval Office and invited news photographers to document the meeting, in the wake of the latest ministerial talks last week on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in Singapore.
"This remains a top priority of the president because of the positive economic benefits that come from it," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"Congress and the American public have high expectations for the TPP.
"The administration is determined to get the best deal possible, and we are pleased with the progress made towards achieving an ambitious, comprehensive, high-standard agreement."
Ministers gave up last week on meeting the year-end goal of concluding the TPP, but US Trade Representative Michael Froman, who was in Singapore, and in Obama's Oval Office consultations on Monday, said significant progress had been made.
Hopes for a swift conclusion of the TPP were dealt a blow when Obama was forced to delay his latest trip to Asia in October over a political crisis in Washington over a government shutdown.
The White House has already announced that the president will return to Asia in April, a trip that may offer new momentum to TPP talks, a centerpiece of Obama's "rebalancing" towards Asia strategy.
The TPP is being negotiated by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
The potential members make up 40 percent of the global economy and other countries may join the pact later.
Snags have appeared in negotiations on a number of issues, including opening up Japan's auto and farm markets, government procurement and limiting the role of state-owned enterprises.
Patent issues -- in particular on medicines -- have also been a sticking point.
Obama's meeting on Monday also included Vice President Joe Biden, who was in Asia earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
The talks also focused on Obama's push to convince Congress to offer him Trade Promotion Authority -- which would allow him to fast-track trade deals through Congress.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]