By John S. McClenahen The fate of free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Chile, considered a critical step toward creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005, now rests with the legislatures in the two countries. Representatives of the U.S. and Chile formally signed the pact June 6 in Miami. If approved by Congress and the Chilean legislature, the agreement would be the first free-trade pact between the U.S. and a South American country. Trade in goods between the U.S. and Chile totaled $6.4 billion last year, with the U.S. running a $1.2 billion deficit with the South American country. Notably, Chile has had a free-trade agreement with the 15-nation European Union (EU) since Feb. 1, a pact that, notes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, eliminated tariffs on more than 90% of EU products sold in Chile. "U.S. exporters have been losing $20 million a week in potential sales to Chile because we don't have free trade with Chile while many others do," claims Franklin J. Vargo, vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, Washington, D.C. "The signing brings us that much closer to gaining approval of the agreement and reversing this untenable situation."