The European Commission has told India it will take steps to end the seizures of Indian-made generic drugs at EU ports, but would prefer not to do so through a legal battle at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Commission is aware that this issue has to be dealt with, but whether this is to be achieved through making changes to the EU customs regulations, improving customs practice or by other means has yet to be looked at, said European Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, speaking in New Delhi at the weekend.

Commissioner Ashton told journalists that India has not previously discussed any formal complaint with the Commission about the seizures of Indian-manufactured generic drugs, which have been taking place while they were in transit in European ports on their way to Third World countries, and have followed allegations by patentholders that the drugs were in fact counterfeit.

She also said there have been discussions with EU member states about the problem and that the Commission and her “technical people” have “some ideas” about how to deal with the problem without going through the WTO legal process. However, she stressed that if the Indian government was not satisfied with the measures which the Commission will propose for ending the seizures, it could request a dispute settlement panel at the WTO.

The Commissioner was in New Delhi at the weekend for an informal ministerial meeting of the WTO, and her comments came after sideline discussions on the seizures with India’s Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Before meeting Ms Ashton, Mr Sharma stressed that the government would be firm on the issue, and added that the “great job” done by Indian drugmakers in ensuring that people across the globe have access to cheap life-saving medicines may not have been appreciated.