By Michael Baadke
The United States intends to file notice that it will withdraw from the Universal Postal Union, the international organization that coordinates mail activities and rates between its 192 member countries.
The UPU was established with the 1874 Treaty of Bern. The United States was one of the original treaty signatories and has been a member throughout the UPU’s 144-year history. The UPU became a specialized agency of the United Nations in 1948.
A statement from the White House press secretary issued Oct. 17 said that the Department of State has recommended the United States “adopt self-declared rates for terminal dues as soon as practical, and no later than January 1, 2020.”
Terminal dues refer to the rates and fees paid by one country’s postal operator to another for delivery of letter-post items generally weighing up to 4.4 pounds.
During the one-year process of withdrawing from the UPU, the Department of State “will seek to negotiate bilateral and multilateral agreements” that resolve “problems” described in the Aug. 23 presidential memorandum signed by President Donald J. Trump titled “Modernizing the Monetary Reimbursement Model for the Delivery of Goods Through the International Postal System and Enhancing the Security and Safety of International Mail.”
However, that August memorandum states, “The United States is a party to the current Constitution of the UPU — which was adopted in 1964 — and intends to continue to participate fully in and financially contribute to the UPU, as provided in Article 21 of the UPU Constitution.”
The president’s memorandum requested that the UPU establish terminal dues rates that fully reimburse the U.S. Postal Service for costs to the same extent as domestic rates for comparable services. It also asked for rates that avoid a preference for inbound foreign small packages containing goods that favors foreign mailers over domestic mailers, and that avoid a preference for inbound foreign small packages containing goods that favors postal operators over private-sector entities providing transportation services.
According to the president, the United States is seeking “a system of fair and nondiscriminatory rates for goods that promotes unrestricted and undistorted competition.”
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The White House announcement comes less than six weeks after the conclusion of the UPU extraordinary congress in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The August presidential memorandum warned that if negotiations at the UPU congress failed to yield the reforms set out in the memorandum, “the United States will consider taking any appropriate actions to ensure that rates for the delivery of inbound foreign packages satisfy those criteria, consistent with applicable law.”
At its Ethiopia meeting, the UPU chose not to consider the issue until the next congress in 2020, according to a Sept. 20 report by Andy Bounds in Financial Times.
The action by the White House has been attributed by many sources as a response to UPU rates favoring other countries, with China singled out most frequently. According to the Financial Times, the cost to mail a 4.4-pound package within the United States is $19 to $23, while China Post pays just $5 to ship a similar package to the United States.