A "strike force" of undercover Customs officers and border patrols has been set up to stop the flow of fake medicines into Britain and Europe.

The elite units will begin work this summer after experts warned of a marked increase in the smuggling of counterfeit goods and drugs into the European Union, particularly from Russia, China and South Asia.

The latest EU figures suggest that 100 million fake goods, including CDs, jeans and watches, were smuggled into Europe last year - a 17.5 per cent increase on the number for 2002. Recent seizures also show traffickers are now faking mass-market goods, including basic medical items such as decongestants and petroleum jelly.

The Independent on Sunday revealed last week that counterfeiting experts fear the UK could see a surge in fake drugs when the EU admits new East European members.

As a result, European governments have pledged to introduce far tougher measures to control the trade, including the Customs "strike force". This summer, Customs officers will be empowered to seize any suspicious shipments of drugs and allow the medicines' legal patent-holder to inspect them for fakes.

New members to the EU, such as Hungary, Poland, Cyprus and Slovakia, will be required to introduce strict anti-trafficking penalties and medicines regulations after they join the EU in May.

Dr Harvey Bale, head of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Associations in Geneva, Switzerland, said: "Europe is confronted by counterfeits from Asia, Africa and Russia. They will be growing sources of fake medicines."

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