Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday said talks between India and the United States on a trade agreement was going on in “full speed”, PTI reported. Sitharaman, who briefly spoke to United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about the trade deal at the International Monetary Fund headquarters, said she was hopeful that the discussions would be completed soon.

“In fact, I broadly mentioned it to Secretary Mnuchin, but that is something on which the Commerce minister and Mr [Robert] Lighthizer [US Trade Representatives] are working,” she said. “My inputs are that the negotiations are going in full speed and there’s a great intensity with which both sides are engaging and hopefully the deal will be structured soon.” Mnuchin is expected to visit India next month.

The finance minister said a totalisation agreement with the United States had always been considered. “One of the reasons why that was never responded to was that India did not have a social welfare net or social insurance cover for Indians in India,” she said. “And therefore, if they had to give it, they wouldn’t be given in the sense where would it be used?”

Sitharaman said the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat initiative provided good coverage to the economically backward, adding there were more options in the private sector for insurance coverage. The finance minister said she was not completely informed on whether all of this had been considered in the negotiations.

India had in the past also put across several arguments on the health cover matter, but to little avail, Sitharaman said. “I remember that. I’ve heard it at least twice in my negotiations on the totalisation,” she said, adding that most Indians working in the United States had no claim over social security deductions as there was a minimum period of 10 years.

Sitharaman also said that India was among the fastest growing economies in the world in spite of the IMF’s projections. “The IMF [in its latest projections] reduces the growth [rate] for all the global economies,” she said, according to Hindustan Times. “It reduces the growth for India too. But even otherwise, even with that India is still growing as the fastest growing economy.”

Earlier this week, the global body had lowered India’s growth rate projection to 6.1% for the 2019-’20 financial year. On Thursday, the IMF chief said India had worked on the fundamental aspects of its economy but there were problems, such as long-term drivers of growth, that need to be focused on.

A day later, the world body said the country’s decision to reduce corporate taxes from 35% to 22% will have a positive impact on investment.

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