SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. And it’s a real pleasure for me to welcome you to the Benjamin Franklin Room here on the eighth floor of the State Department as we celebrate the negotiation of agreements between the United States and 100 Open Skies partners. I’d like to extend my appreciation to all the negotiators, government officials, members of the airline and airport industries, the labor community, and other stakeholders in this 100-strong partnership who came to mark this special occasion with us.
I'm also delighted that Secretary Ray LaHood, who is one of the leaders in many of our Open Skies agreements, our State Department team with Under Secretary Bob Hormats, Assistant Secretary Jose Fernandez, and of course, all the excellent negotiators led by Kris Urs. I want to especially acknowledge both Congresswoman Granger and former Secretary Mineta and a number of ambassadors who are here from our Open Skies partners. I want to extend a special greeting to Colombian Ambassador Gabriel Silva, whose country became our 100th partner last November. So thank you so much. (Applause.)
Now, I don’t need to tell this audience that we know what the benefits are of these Open Skies agreements. They not only allow us to cross great distances, which I have been doing a lot of recently, but also to open up markets, create jobs, allow people in far -removed countries to interact, share information, and build businesses together.
For too long, however, restrictive agreements between governments cut off all of these potential connections. They kept airlines from entering certain markets. They forced shipping companies to fly inefficient routes with half-empty airplanes. And, by stifling competition, they kept air fares artificially high.
That's why the Department of State and Department of Transportation negotiated the first Open Skies Agreement, with the Netherlands, in 1992. Now, today, we have agreements with countries in every region of the world, from major economies, such as Japan, Canada and the European Union, to smaller but equally important countries such as El Salvador and Senegal. And on the President’s recent trip to Latin America, we concluded our new agreement with Brazil, our 101st partner. And we look forward to expanding these partnerships around the world.
In each case, an Open Skies agreement has powerful benefits – fewer government restrictions, more competition, more jobs in the air and on the ground; more people trading, exchanging and interacting; cheaper flights, more tourists, new routes to new cities – so that we now have passengers and shippers enjoying direct services between cities like Las Vegas and Seoul, or Phoenix and Montreal.
Just consider for a minute what this agreement with one country, Colombia, will mean. Now, one of Colombia’s biggest exports – fresh-cut flowers – will make it to the flower stands of the United States even faster because shippers will now have more direct access to more American cities. And on the U.S. side, our computers, sensitive electronics, and spare parts for all types of equipment will make it to Colombia more quickly and efficiently. And with more direct services between more points, we’ll see more recreational and business travel between our two countries.
Now, Open Skies agreements have another big plus: They deepen relationships between people in very personal ways. I’m a big believer in people-to-people diplomacy, and this is actually a means toward achieving that. It’s what I call citizen diplomacy, and it’s one of the ways we can meet the challenges of the 21st century. Building a continuous airborne corridor of prosperity around the world is one of our goals.
Now, I unfortunately will have to leave, so I’m going to miss Ray’s remarks because, as Ray and Kay well know, I just came from a classified briefing on Libya to the House and I have to be at the Senate for a classified briefing to the Senate at 4:30. And as a former member, I know I’d better not be late. (Laughter.) So I’m going to now turn the podium over to Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary Susan Kurland, who will follow me and will introduce Ray. But let me once again thank you all for what you’ve done to make this moment possible, and thank you for coming to celebrate with us. (Applause.)