WASHINGTON - The United States is exploring the idea of setting up a wider regional trade pact with Latin America, Secretary of State John Kerry revealed on Sunday.

"I believe we could look to a stronger set of initiatives between Canada, the United States, Mexico particularly, and the rest of Latin America. We could do more within the hemisphere," Kerry told CNN Espanol.

He told the network's Andres Oppenheimer and the Miami Herald newspaper that he could foresee a wider pact beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement, which groups the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The United States already also has economic ties with 12 nations in Latin America, he said, adding "we're very strongly connected. We have six different trade agreements that constitute those 12 countries including the Caribbean."

The top U.S. diplomat said he had instructed his staff to explore the possibility of deepening the trade links with the region, and that he had already had "encouraging" talks with a number of experts.

"We're going to try to do our due diligence on this, and I'm really hopeful... I would like to see us try to get something in place."

But Kerry warned some nations were not yet ready for such a move.

"We need to move some countries in Latin America along in order to try to really make that meaningful, because some of them don't want it today," he said.

"It's not that we wouldn't try to move in that direction, but we still need to try to improve relationships."

The top US diplomat was speaking before he left for a visit to Vietnam and the Philippines seen as part of U.S. moves to strengthen plans for a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Washington is also negotiating what is billed as the world's largest free trade accord with the European Union, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Kerry said both deals were "critical," adding that "for all of us, our future economy, economic growth and development are going to rely on moving both to Europe and to the Pacific."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013