Two senior Obama administration officials said recently that the United States has a goal to complete negotiations on a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement this year, according to a Sandler & Travis “Trade Advisory Service” report this week. The officials believe that if TPP talks are successful in generating a sufficiently strong agreement TPP will ultimately be approved by Congress.

President Obama participated in an annual summit meeting with the leaders of Canada and Mexico this week and trade issues were reportedly a main topic of discussion. The three leaders will discuss ways to strengthen North American competitiveness as a whole because when “North America is functioning well as a trading block it strengthens our position in the global economy,” the officials explained.

As did panelists testifying at a recent congressional hearing, the officials said that NAFTA has benefited all three partners but that improvements are needed. TPP provides that opportunity, they said, by “introducing additional standards” that are not currently part of NAFTA, thus turning that pact into “a 21st century high-standards trade agreement that … is both in the interest of our prosperity here at home and also will strengthen the position of North America as it relates to some of the fastest-growing emerging markets in the Pacific.”

With that in mind, the officials said, “it is still very much our goal to complete a TPP agreement this year.” They noted that negotiations have “progressed to the point that we are really dealing with some final sets of sensitive issues in each of the nations, which is normal as you get towards the end of a trade agreement,” but they did not indicate what those issues are or what it might take to resolve them.

The officials largely sidestepped questions about prospects for TPP in light of the increasingly vocal opposition to pending legislation that would reauthorize trade promotion authority (TPA), which some observers say is needed to reassure trading partners that a final agreement will not be altered by U.S. lawmakers. They appeared to downplay the necessity of TPA, suggesting that Congress and the public will support the TPP once they can review it and see that it is “profoundly in our national interests” and “has the potential to create an enormous amount of jobs in the United States.” They also pointed to congressional approval of free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama by “broad, bipartisan majorities” as proof that “we can get high-standard trade agreements through Congress.”