New Delhi: European Union (EU) customs officials will meet in the “next couple of weeks" to resolve the issue of Indian generic drugs consignments in transit being seized at the continent’s ports, EU trade commissioner Catherine Ashton said on Thursday after a meeting with commerce minister Anand Sharma.

“Our commitment on pharma generic issues is to find a solution that works for India," Ashton said. “Our customs officials will be meeting shortly to work through" a solution.

Negotiations on: A file photo of Catherine Ashton, EU trade commissioner. In a meeting with commerce minister Anand Sharma on Thursday, she said ‘we should work our way through to move forward’. Seokyong Leee / Bloomberg

There have been several recent seizures of Indian-made drugs at European ports on grounds of alleged patent infringement. The consignments were meant for destinations elsewhere.

While the EU cites domestic laws of individual countries against patent infringements, India maintains that European countries are creating trade barriers against Indian drug companies to protect the interests of their firms.

In 2008, there were 17 cases of medicine seizures in the Netherlands alone, according to a response from the Dutch authorities to Health Action International, a non-profit organization, under a freedom of information request. Of these, 16 were shipped from India and one from China.

According to European Commission laws, if a consignment of drugs is not patented either in the country of origin or its final destination, it can be seized. India has objected to this, saying that an agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) allows such exports as the EU was not the destination.

India has already prepared a legal brief to take up the matter with the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement body along with Brazil. A consignment by Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd to Brazil was seized in transit by Dutch customs in January.

Sharma said that this was in complete violation of WTO rules and went beyond TRIPS plus.

The EU has “accepted to address this issue", he said. “Recently there was one seizure which they have released."

An issue on which the EU has threatened to take India to WTO is that of high duties levied by Indian states on imported wines and spirits.

“On wines and spirits, the minister tells me he is making progress," Ashton said. “These are irritant issues between the two sides. We should work our way through to move forward on the free trade agreement."

Sharma said the problem wasn’t intractable.

“The issue of wine is more or less in the realm of resolutions," he said. “There are one or two states to come on board, for example Maharashtra. We will talk to them."

He also said that both sides have set a target to take bilateral trade to $200 billion (Rs9.42 trillion) by 2013.

Sharma also held talks with Swedish trade minister Ewa Björling earlier in the day.

On the ongoing negotiation for a free trade agreement between the EU and India, Sharma said India has raised the issue of varying tariff structures in the EU countries. “There is this issue of symmetry, which we have raised."

He also said that India has rejected a proposal by the EU to change the model of negotiation between the two sides.

“Our negotiating skills and strength is in GATT architecture and there is no need to have a new process," he said. The “GATT-based model of negotiation is important". GATT refers to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Asked about non-trade issues such as child labour and human rights raised by the EU, Sharma said these were extraneous.

“Child labour is a social issue," he said. “We have stringent legislation and implementation mechanisms in place, which are in the public domain" to address this issue.

India and the EU will hold their 10th bilateral summit in New Delhi on Friday. While the Indian side will be headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the EU delegation is led by José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who will be accompanied by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, commissioner for external relations and European neighbourhood policy, as well as Ashton.