Earlier today, Under Secretary William J. Burns signed an Open Skies Air Transport agreement with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin. Signing this agreement not only demonstrates the excellent state of our bilateral relations, but also holds the promise of an even closer partnership between our two countries. Open Skies will strengthen and expand already strong linkages between us, benefiting U.S. and Colombian businesses and travelers by expanding air service and encouraging vigorous price competition by airlines, while safeguarding aviation safety and security.
Consumers and businesses will begin seeing the benefits of this agreement almost immediately. Colombia is a major aviation partner of the United States; every year more than two million passengers travel between our two countries. In fact, the United States is Colombia's top aviation market, and Colombia is the second largest aviation market for the United States in South America. Our agreement and a transitional annex will allow for the phase-in of benefits and once full Open Skies takes effect at the end of 2012, airlines from the United States and Colombia will be allowed to select routes, destinations, and prices for both passenger and cargo service based on consumer demand and market conditions.
The Department of State's Office of Transportation Affairs in the Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs is the lead negotiator for the United States for all aviation agreements, including our Open Skies agreements. We partner with the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Department of Commerce and seek input from industry and labor. Private sector stakeholders such as airlines, airports, and industry associations are members of the U.S. aviation negotiating team, and their support has been crucial to the success of our Open Skies initiative. Open Skies agreements are win-win for the United States and our partners.