Japan has offered the US a compromise on agriculture, as officials grow confident that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is close to completion.

The TPP would eliminate trade barriers between 12 Asia-Pacific nations and has in recent months become a key priority for the US government, as President Barack Obama looks to get it over the line before the expected tension between his Democrat Party and Republicans sets in towards the end of 2015, ahead of 2016’s presidential elections.

Local media report that Japan has offered to import more rice from the US, in exchange for the US acquiescing to Japan’s desire to maintain its existing rice tariffs for the other member states. This comes as the US permitted Japan to maintain safety standards on car imports.

The standoff between the two dominant regional economies had threatened to prolong negotiations into election season, but US Trade Representative Michael Froman has spoken of his confidence that the TPP will be signed over the coming months.

“The contours of a final agreement are coming into focus. We think everyone is focused on getting this done in a small number of months,” he told the House of Representatives.

However, some experts have voiced concerns that as the US tries to hurriedly finalise the deal, the TPP will become a two-speed trade agreement, rather than the comprehensive multilateral deal it was intended to be.

“It’s almost as if there are only two parties involved: Japan and the US. This shouldn’t be the case. There’s another 10 countries and reading through the statements, it gives the impression that a lot of the breakthroughs and concessions in agriculture and so on are bilateral concessions between the US and Japan. It’s not at all clear that this will be available to other members. It’s looking like a bilateral deal between the US and Japan and a series of less attractive side deals for everyone else. Why bother coming together?” Jayant Menon, lead economist at the Asian Development Bank (ADB) tells GTR.

Having previously seemed ambivalent towards the US foreign trade policy, in recent months the Obama administration has put renewed effort into securing comprehensive free trade agreements with the Asia-Pacific region and the European Union.

Both negotiating processes have been long and arduous, and have attracted significant opposition from the general public, trade unions, consumer groups and NGOs. However, the TPP is now most likely to be completed, while numerous European governments still harbour doubts as to the tangible benefits of a trade agreement with the US.

Furthermore, there is widespread opposition among European political ranks over the inclusion of a controversial investment protection clause known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which critics say permits corporations to sue governments for loss of profit.

While it’s doubtful the TPP would have any material impact on the way trade is financed, supporters say it will increase trade volumes significantly – acting as a boon, therefore, for all those involved in regional trade. For Japan, proponents of the TPP voice hope that it could help boost the country’s stagnating exports sector.

“Many in Japan have suggested that a TPP agreement could act as a lever to deliver the productivity-enhancing reforms needed to make Abenomics a success. In principle, the resulting benefits from enhanced competition, greater openness to investment, and lower energy costs could be substantial,” says Marcel Thieliant, Japan economist at Capital Economics.

“But Japan’s insistence on maintaining high tariff rates on many agricultural products remains a major stumbling block to an agreement. Dairy products, pork and beef, sugar, wheat and rice are considered ‘sanctuaries’ by the Japanese government. Some 53% of Japanese consumers think that food staples should be produced locally even if they cost more, according to one poll,” he adds.