Trade Minister Tim Groser says the Doha round of world trade talks is on the verge of collapse.
The talks, involving 153 countries, are aimed at ridding the world of trade barriers.
Success would be worth billions of dollars to New Zealand exporters.
Sources have told Radio New Zealand News that an Easter deadline is crucial for the future of the 10-year-old talks but a rift between the United States and China over tariffs on industrial goods means it is unlikely to be met.
Mr Groser says if the deadlock is not broken it could be 2013 at the earliest before talks could be rescucitated.
New Zealand's special agricultural trade envoy, Alistair Polson, says it is clear the talks are facing their biggest crisis yet.