Japan submits rebuttal on photo film to WTO

Japan filed with the World Trade Organization on Apr. 4 a rebuttal to Washington’s claim that a series of Japanese government measures have hampered foreign access to its photographic film market, trade officials said in Tokyo.

A WTO dispute-settlement panel, set up at the United States’ request, is expected to hold its first hearing around mid-April. The U.S., which filed its own account Feb. 20, has accused the Japanese government of having instituted a series of “liberalization countermeasures” in the 1960s and 1970s to protect domestic products from foreign competition.

Japan, however, rejects the U.S. argument as being “both factually baseless and legally groundless.” In its submission to the Geneva-based trade watchdog, Japan insists that it has never taken any liberalization countermeasures.

The market structure of single-brand wholesale distribution, which the U.S. challenges, was already common in the Japanese film market before the end of the 1960s, when the alleged liberalization countermeasures were first taken, the document says. Consequently, it says, it is “factually impossible” for such measures to have caused single-brand distribution.

The Japanese government also argues that distribution policies that were implemented by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry in the 1960s were meant to promote modernization of the nation’s distribution system, not to block foreign products. The U.S. maintains that the Large Scale Retail Store Law has indirectly hampered sales of imported films in Japan by limiting the opening of large retail stores that are more likely to stock foreign products.

Japanese trade officials, however, contend that the law does not regulate and has no adverse affect on competitive conditions for imported film. They also added that there is no correlation between a store’s size and its likelihood of carrying foreign film brands.