CARTAGENA, Colombia, April 15 (Xinhua) -- A Colombia-U.S. free trade agreement will take effect on May 15, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced here Sunday following the close of the sixth Summit of the Americas.
Speaking at a press conference, Santos said the two countries also agreed to work together in the areas of electric power and fighting organized crime in Central America, and agreed to extend Colombian visas to the United States from the current five-year maximum period to 10 years.
Santos described the agreements as "a great vote of confidence, " adding that the United States can now look on Colombia "as not just an ally but a friend".
A free trade agreement between the two countries has been in the pipeline since 2006, with the U.S. legislature demanding extra provisions in the bill at several points. The final version of the bill was passed by the U.S. Congress in November 2011.
"It gives me great pleasure to announce that the trade treaty will come into force next month," Santos said. "This means thousands of jobs not just for Colombia but also for the United States."
According to the U.S. legislature, Colombia ships 39 percent of its exports to the United States and receives 29 percent of its imports from the U.S.
The new agreement lowers tariffs on U.S. exports as agreed under the previous Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Agreement.
Santos also thanked the U.S. for the assistance his country has received under Plan Colombia, a military and financial aid package which started in the 1990s to help Colombia combat guerrillas and drug trafficking.
"Before Plan Colombia we were on the verge of becoming a failed state," said Santos, adding the country had since made "concrete advances recognized the world over."
The two countries' agreement on boosting technical help to fight organized crime in Central America comes after Guatemala proposed in February that the consumption and transport of drugs be decriminalized.
After debating Guatemala's proposal, summit participants agreed to review the current policies employed by member states and seek new ways of fighting trafficking, based on better research data.
Santos also said he hoped improving and expanding the country's electricity network would help fight poverty.
"We now hope that no South American will have to go without energy, something which would be an enormous contribution to fighting poverty," he said.