The World Trade Organization is about to take sides in an acrimonious film-trade dispute between Eastman Kodak and Japan’s Fuji Photo Film Co.
At issue is Kodak’s contention that it has lost billions of dollars in film sales because of unfair trading practices in Japan. Tokyo-based Fuji counters that Kodak is an inept marketer with inferior products.
The world trading body, based in Geneva, has been asked to decide the feud and is likely to issue its interim findings Friday. A final ruling could be released by year’s end. If there’s a clear loser, an appeal is likely - meaning the dispute could drag on for a few years more.
The spoils are considerable. At $13 billion, Japan’s photographic market is bigger than America’s, partly because the Japanese pay more for photo processing, film and photographic paper. Kodak estimates it has lost $8 billion in sales since 1975 because of Fuji’s lock on Japan’s major photographic distributors.
When it comes to prying open Japanese markets, few U.S. industrialists have succeeded like George Fisher, who believes the combative strategy he once used at Motorola Inc. in the semiconductor, pager and cellular telephone markets could work just as well for Kodak.
Fisher is hoping that even modest success could win back some of the 27,000 jobs Kodak has eliminated since he became CEO in 1993.
However, it was price cuts by Fuji in the United States this year that were in large part to blame for Kodak’s latest drastic move last month to slash 10,000 jobs from its worldwide payroll of 95,000 by the end of 1999.