Today the U.S. Chargé d’Affaires, Keith Gilges and Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Manuel Heredia signed the first bilateral Air Transport Agreement between the United States and Belize. (VO STARTS) The Open Skies Agreement will expand the already strong commercial and economic ties by enabling greater air travel and commerce between the two countries. It will benefit airlines, travelers, businesses, shippers, airports, and localities by permitting unrestricted reciprocal market access for passenger and all-cargo airlines to fly between our two countries and beyond. Minister Heredia highlighted that the signing signifies the “joining of Belize and the United States in air transportation which has been a little over twenty years in the making since it was first discussed by Belize’s then Minister of Foreign Affairs, now Prime Minister Dean Barrow. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington, U.S. Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Deborah Lingwood, Chief Executive Officer for the Ministry of National Security George Lovell, and Director of Civil Aviation Lindsay Garbutt, among many other representatives from the Government of Belize and the U.S. Embassy witnessed the signing at a short ceremony. In his remarks, Chargé Gilges emphasized that the Agreement increases opportunities for air travel and commerce between both countries, as well as reinforces economic cooperation and strengthens bilateral ties. Director Garbutt stressed the need for the airline sector to maximize the opportunities presented by this Agreement in order to increase civil aviation traffic in Belize. The Open Skies Agreement replaces the Air Services Agreement that had been in force since 1977.