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Australian Trade Minister sees Pacific deal just weeks away

Australia's Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb speaks at the G20 Investment Forum opening plenary in Sydney July 19, 2014. REUTERS/Nikki Short/Pool

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said an ambitious Pacific trade pact could be reached within weeks after years of contentious negotiations.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement includes 12 countries covering 40 percent of the world economy, among them the United States and Japan.

Last month, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman official told lawmakers the deal could be wrapped up within months.

"We are very close to agreeing this TPP," Robb told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio on Thursday. "We've got a meeting in mid-February where we're hoping to conclude it."

A small number of issues remained to be worked out, Robb said without giving details, but there was a strong appetite to conclude a deal.

"Mid-February to mid-March: that'll be, I think, the timeframe. We might have to come back again to conclude some things, but that's the intent. It really is a vital time."

(Reporting by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Richard Pullin)