More than half of New Zealanders appear to have made up their minds already about whether the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a good or bad thing, but a substantial minority is reserving judgment on it, shows the last Herald-DigiPoll survey.
Just over 30 per cent oppose the trade deal and 20 per cent support it but 45 per cent say they don't know enough to form any view.
Prime Minister John Key said he was not surprised by the results.
"Those who have made up their minds have strong pre-existing views," he told the Herald. "However for the bulk of people they would probably prefer to see the actual deal rather than jump at shadows or simply accept that every FTA is in New Zealand's best interest."
He was confident that when a final deal could be presented to the public most Kiwis would "see value in it".
Labour leader Andrew Little said the results showed a failure of leadership on the issue. "[The Government doesn't] have to compromise the confidentiality agreements they have with the other negotiating parties but they ... don't seem to have done a job to keep public confidence up to the level that it needs to be."
Negotiations for the TPP under the leadership of the United States began in March 2010. The last round of talks in Maui in July ended with three issues outstanding: vehicles, dairy and patents on pharmaceuticals.
Pressure will be on negotiators and ministers to get a deal secured before Apec in Manila in November.
Trade Negotiations Minister Tim Groser held talks in Kuala Lumpur last week with US Trade Representative Mike Froman and other players at non-related TPP trade talks and he said last night he still believed a deal was 90 per cent likely.
He was "absolutely convinced" that when he could reveal the deal and the numbers Kiwis would see the logic of supporting it.
One of the most powerful arguments was that sitting outside a deal would lock in discrimination against New Zealand exporters.
He cited New Zealand's free trade agreement with Korea this year. The people most excited were kiwifruit growers "because they were being screwed out of the Korean market by Chile having a trade area and by having to pay a 45 per cent tariff."
Another example was the strong beef market New Zealand and Australia had with Mexico before it struck a trade deal with the US and Canada.