The Australian wine industry hopes to strengthen relationships with the US, its most important export market, as free trade talks near completion.

Despite last minute stumbling blocks over non-wine agricultural products such as sugar, negotiators say the talks are now in the final straight.

Completion before or early into the New Year is widely expected. Sam Tolley, chief executive of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, told just-drinks the free trade agreement would be of direct value in reducing two-way tariffs from 5% to zero.

But there will be greater value in the strengthened linkages in resolving such matters as labelling disputes, the US's new bio-terrorism legal requirements and general industry to industry relations.

The US has in 2003 become Australia biggest export market by value accounting for A$869m (US$642m) of the A$2.42 billion (US$1.79 billion) total.

"It's one of the key elements in our strategy. You can't underestimate it." Tolley said.