United States Participation in the UPU

Role of the Department of State in negotiations relating to the UPU

The Universal Postal Union (UPU), an agency of the United Nations, is an intergovernmental organization that establishes rules for the exchange of documents and parcels among national post offices. The primary international agreement governing international postal shipments is the Universal Postal Convention, which is revised and readopted every four years in a genral "Congress" of all member countries. The next Congress of the UPU willl be held in Istanbul in September 2016 . See genrally http://www.upu.int/en.html.

In the United States, the Department of State takes the lead in intergovernental negotiations relating to the UPU. In the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, Congress delegated to the Department of State responsibility for the “formulation, coordination, and oversight of foreign policy related to international postal services and other international delivery services” and authority “to conclude postal treaties, conventions, and amendments related to international postal services and other international delivery services.” 39 U.S.C. 407(b)(1). See U.S. International Postal Laws. The Department of State has established an internet site to provide information on its participation in the UPU. http://www.state.gov/p/io/ipp/.

The policy goals of U.S. in participation in the UPU are defined by Congress as follows (39 U.S.C. 407(a)):

(1) to promote and encourage communications between peoples by efficient operation of international postal services and other international delivery services for cultural, social, and economic purposes;

(2) to promote and encourage unrestricted and undistorted competition in the provision of international postal services and other international delivery services, except where provision of such services by private companies may be prohibited by law of the United States;

(3) to promote and encourage a clear distinction between governmental and operational responsibilities with respect to the provision of international postal services and other international delivery services by the Government of the United States and by intergovernmental organizations of which the United States is a member;

(4) to participate in multilateral and bilateral agreements with other countries to accomplish these objectives.

U.S. law includes several important limitations on what the U.S. government can agree to in a UPU Convention:

(1) No unjust or unreasonable discrimination in competitive international markets. U.S. law provides that “the Secretary may not conclude any treaty, convention, or other international agreement (including those regulating international postal services) if such treaty, convention, or agreement would, with respect to any competitive product, grant an undue or unreasonable preference to the Postal Service, a private provider of international postal or delivery services, or any other person.” 39 U.S.C. 407(b)(1).

(2) Identical treatment of competitive shipments under U.S. customs and other laws. U.S. law provides that "With respect to shipments of international mail that are competitive [postal] products . . . that are exported or imported by the Postal Service, the Customs Service and other appropriate Federal agencies shall apply the customs laws of the United States and all other laws relating to the importation or exportation of such shipments in the same manner to both shipments by the Postal Service and similar shipments by private companies." 39 U.S.C. 407(e)(2).

(3) Compliance with U.S. antitrust laws. U.S. law provides that “To the extent that the Postal Service, or other Federal agency acting on behalf of or in concert with the Postal Service, engages in conduct with respect to any product which is not reserved to the United States under [the postal monopoly law], the Postal Service or other Federal agency (as the case may be) [shall be subject to](i) the antitrust laws [and] (2) section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act.” 39 U.S.C. 409(e).

The Univeral Postal Conventions of 2008 and 2012 do not comply the above policies and requirements of U.S. law. The Universal Postal Convention of 2016 is currently (February 2016) in the final stages of negotiations.

Advisory Committee on International Postal and Delivery Services (IPODS)

Under U.S. postal law, the Secretary of State is required "establish an advisory committee (within the meaning of the Federal Advisory Committee Act) to perform such functions as the Secretary considers appropriate." 39 U.S.C. 407(b)(3). Accordingly, the State Department has established the Advisory Committee on International Postal and Delivery Services, ususally abbreviated as "IPODS." The Department of State has established an internet site to provide information on the activities of the IPODS. http://www.state.gov/p/io/ipp/c25478.htm.

Since 2008, many members of the IPODS have urged the Department of State to propose amendments to the UPU Convention that would bring it into compliance with the U.S. law. In September 2014, at the urging of the Department, several IPODS members proposed specific drafts of such amendments. The proposed amendments dealt with three topics:

(1) Customs and security. Amend the Convention to provide that, in exchanges between industrialized countries, the destination country must provide similar customs treatment for similar items conveyed by posts and private carriers. In addition, allow all countries to provide similar customs treatment to large shipments of commercial packages posted from non-industrialized countries which — like as China, Hong Kong, and Singapore  — export large quantities of e-commerce items.

(2) Terminal dues and other charges for delivery on inbound international mail. Amend the Convention to provide that, in exchanges between industrialized countries, the detination country must provide non-discriminatory delivery charges, aligned with domestic postage rates according national law, for delivery of similar items conveyed by posts and private carriers. In addition, allow all countries to require the post destination post office to charge non-discriminatory rates for delivery of large shipments of commercial packages posted from non-industrialized countries which — like as China, Hong Kong, and Singapore  — export large quantities of e-commerce items.

(3) Institutional reforms. Amend the Convention to provide a clear statement of what the Postal Operations Council (a permanent UPU committee of postal officials) may and may not do in adopting Regulations which, while purporting to implement the Convention, are binding on national governments. In addition, amend the Convention to provide for more flexible “opt out” procedures (reservations) similar to those of the International Telecommunication Union.

The IPODS voted to support the instutional reform proposals. In subsequent meetings, the IPODS voted to support a compromise version of the customs and security proposals that, however, failed to require meaningful reform even in exchanges among industrialized countries. The Department did not allow the IPODS to address the substance of the terminal dues proposals.

Decisions of the IPODS are advisory only. As of February 2016, the Department has pursued none of the reform proposals at the UPU itself.

The following documents set out the original proposals from the September 2014 meeting of the IPODS and final, much reduced, proposals offered in the September 2015 meeting.

IPODS meeting of September 29, 2014

Draft Proposals for the UPU Istanbul Congress – Draft 1 (19 Sep 2014). See also an introductory presentation and presentations on the customs/security, terminal dues, and institutional reform proposals.

IPODS meeting of September 9, 2015

Specific Proposals for the U.S. to Propose for Approval of the UPU Congress.