India and Brazil launched a trade dispute against the European Union and the Netherlands in the World Trade Organisation on Wednesday over the seizure of generic medicines in transit.
The request for consultations, the first step in a formal World Trade Organization dispute, ratchets up the pressure in a row pitting the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical corporations against access to affordable medicine for people in poor countries.
The generic Indian medicines involved are used to treat illnesses such as AIDS and hypertension.
But EU officials, who argue that their checks aim to identify counterfeit medicine rather than stopping people in developing countries from getting treatment, have been hoping to negotiate a way out of the dispute.
India says its companies, including Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd and Dr Reddy's Laboratories Ltd, face obstacles in the US and Europe because patent holders, fearing loss of profits, use litigation to prevent the entry of cheaper generic rivals.
''We have been discussing the issue with India at length,'' said John Clancy, a European Commission spokesman in Brussels. ''We have signalled our intention to modify our legislation and are confident we will find a solution for this dispute'' without having WTO judges rule on the complaint.