Trade ministers were unable to reach an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major international trade deal involving Canada, but talks will continue in the future.

U.S. trade representative Michael Froman said they had made "significant progress and we will continue to work on resolving a limited number of remaining issues."

"We are more confident than ever that TPP is in reach," Froman said at a news conference.

However Froman said that no date had been set for a next meeting.

New Zealand Trade Minister Tim Groser said one sticking point is dairy. New Zealand has said it will not back a deal that does not significantly open dairy markets, with an eye to the United States, Japan and Canada, as well as Mexico.

'Sweet spot'

Groser said he was extremely confident that they will find a "sweet spot" on dairy and that the progress this week had been "streets ahead" of past negotiations. Groser had previously said that Canada's refusal at the bargaining table to offer more foreign access to its dairy market could slow up negotiations.

But a decision by the federal Conservative government to loosen supply management of the dairy sector would be politically sensitive, particularly with the Conservatives expected to kick off an election campaign as early as Sunday.

The prospect of opening up access to the market has been met by strong opposition from dairy farmers and has even led to protests.

Along with the dairy issue, Reuters reported that disputes remained between Japan and the United States over autos and that there was no agreement on monopoly periods for next-generation drugs.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper had previously said the deal was essential to Canada's interests and that the country "cannot be left out of this kind of trade arrangement." A good agreement in Maui would have strengthened his re-election bid, which is expected to focus on the Conservatives' management of the economy.

During the news conference, International Trade Minister Ed Fast was asked whether an election campaign would prevent his government from making a deal during that period.

Canada will 'continue to be at the table'

Fast would only say that: "Canada came to Maui ready to conclude a TPP. We were active constructive partners at the table. When our partners reconvene, and we trust that will be very soon, Canada will continue to be at the table as a constructive partner with a sincere desire to complete these negotiations."

Ottawa says the countries in the partnership represent some 800 million people with a combined gross domestic product of roughly 40 per cent of the global economy.

Supporters of the deal say it would create openings for Canada in dynamic Asian markets for the first time and, in particular, Japan — the world's third-largest economy.

Trade experts argue Canada can't afford to miss out on a massive deal they say would help many domestic industries, including the services sector as well as beef and pork producers.

With files from Reuters, The Canadian Press