UNITED States Transport Secretary Federico Pena has hailed a new air services agreement with Hong Kong as a confidence-booster for Asia-Pacific trade pacts. Mr Pena, at a signing ceremony yesterday with Economic Services Branch Secretary Gordon Siu, said that he hoped the agreement would be duplicated in other trade accords in Asia. 'The agreement is important because it creates operating certainty for US carriers beyond 1997 when Hong Kong reverts back to China,' Mr Pena said. 'And it gives us the ability to work now with the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region after 1997.' Mr Siu said: 'The security of air links after 1997 is vital to the maintenance of our own prosperity. 'The draft agreement therefore carries implications which reach far beyond the air services sector. 'At a time when both our economies are working to promote more competitive air services through Apec [Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum], we can take pride in the liberal and open nature of our new arrangements.' The deal with the US, initialled on September 29 after eight years of negotiations, gives Hong Kong carriers access to 14 American cities in exchange for increased access to other parts of Asia for US airlines. A new deal was needed because the Bermuda II accord - signed in 1977 and negotiated by Britain on Hong Kong's behalf - expires in 1997. That accord gave Cathay Pacific rights to fly to a handful of west US cities, but only Los Angeles was deemed worthwhile. Cathay has announced plans to launch services to New York by mid-1996. Although the agreement still needs Sino-British Joint Liaison Group approval, Mr Siu said he was confident it would be supported.