Canada wants to join talks on a proposed U.S.-led free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region that also may open its membership to Japan, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Sunday.

We are expressing formally our willingness to join the Transpacific Partnership, Harper told reporters at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' meeting.

Harper said Canada made its decision after being encouraged by President Barack Obama to join.

We looked at the outline of the criteria set by the partnership and they are all criteria that Canada can easily meet. So it is something we're interested in moving forward on, Harper said.

Negotiations on the Transpacific Partnership pact, or TPP, now include nine countries -- the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Chile and Peru -- that have committed to what they are calling a high-standard trade agreement.

Japan gave a boost to the negotiations on Friday by expressing its interest in joining the pact, which analysts see as important to ensuring the United States maintains a strong economic presence in the region as China continues to rise.

With Japan included, the proposed economic pact would be about 40 percent larger than the 27-nation European Union.

Mexico is also was weighing whether to join, Economy Minister Bruno Ferrari told Reuters on Friday, saying it offered an attractive opportunity to boost growth.

The United States and Canada have been free trade partners since the late 1980s, first under a bilateral agreement and then the North American Free Trade Agreement that brought in Mexico in 1994.

But negotiators are addressing many issues in the TPP talks that have arisen since NAFTA went into force. Those include the role of state-owned enterprises in international trade, government innovation policies and cross-border data flows.

(Reporting by Rachelle Younglai and Doug Palmer; Editing by John O'Callaghan)