US President Barack Obama has announced the broad outlines of a plan to create a trans-Pacific free trade zone at an annual regional summit in Hawaii.
"I'm confident we can get this done," Mr Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) talks.
Nine Apec nations are involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but China has so far not expressed interest in joining the talks.
In all, 21 Apec countries account for about 44% of global trade.
They also make up some 40% of the world's population.
Speaking in Honolulu on Saturday, Mr Obama said: "Together we can boost exports and create more goods available for our consumers, create new jobs. Compete, win in the markets of the future."
Describing the region as an engine for growth, he expressed hopes that the TPP deal could be finalised as early as next year.
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The stakes are high for all of us”
Hillary Clinton US Secretary of State
The US leader also said the TPP could serve as a model for other trade pacts. He did not provide further details about the plan.
The TPP currently includes Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore - all relatively small economies.
The US, Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Peru are negotiating to join.
And Japan, the world's third largest economy, has now said it also wants to join the discussions.
The announcement was made by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda before setting off for the summit.
While not taking part in the TPP discussions, Chinese President Hu Jintao said in Honolulu that he backed a long-term goal of negotiating a free trade area in the region, which could in future include all Apec members.
Mr Hu said Beijing would focus on innovation and encourage investment overseas.
The BBC's Kim Ghattas in Washington says the US sees Asia as essential to America's future, both economically and strategically.
The summit - which brings together leaders from Russia to Chile - is also expected to discuss how to tackle the global financial crisis.
In particular, the leaders are looking to protect the region from growing economic difficulties in the eurozone bloc.
Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that many forces outside the Pacific region would have an impact on it.
"Global trends and world events have given us a full and formidable agenda," she said. "And the stakes are high for all of us."
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