India-US trade negotiations going in full speed: Sitharaman

WASHINGTON: Union finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday said negotiations between India and the United States on a trade deal are going on in ‘full speed.’ She also expressed hope that it will conclude soon. The ongoing trade deal negotiations briefly came up for discussion. It happened during a pull-aside between Sitharaman and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the IMF headquarters.

Mnuchin will visit India early next month. “I broadly mentioned it to Secretary Mnuchin. However, that is something on which the Commerce minister and Mr (Robert) Lighthizer (US Trade Representatives) are working. My inputs are that the negotiations are going at full speed. Also, there’s a great intensity with which both sides are engaging and hopefully the deal will be structured soon,” Sitharaman said.

She said a totalisation agreement with the US is always on the cards while responding to a question. “It never responded because India did not have a social welfare net or social insurance cover for Indians in India. And therefore, if they had to give it, they wouldn’t be given in the sense where would it be used?” she said.

“Today, I think most private insurances or for many of the families which are below a certain level of income, Ayushman Bharat is a fantastic big coverage. There is also now a lot more private sector option for insurance coverage. I’m not adequately informed if it is factored in now in the negotiations,” Sitharaman said.

She said India in the past even, when she was the Commerce Minister, had put several arguments before but that was repeatedly stonewalled over the health cover issue. “I remember that. I’ve heard it at least twice in my negotiations on the totalisation”, Sitharaman said. It could be ‘humongous amounts’, she added. Most of the Indians working in the US, unfortunately, have no claim over their social security deductions, because there is a minimum period of at least 10 years, she said. “It’s so designed that you really can’t benefit. And no one, in any case, does live for that duration in this country,” she said.

An official release issued said Sitharaman had a “fruitful” dialogue with Mnuchin. The two sides agreed to continue the dialogue in the first week of November during Mnuchin’s visit to New Delhi, it said.

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