After months of silence on questions related to the potential U.S. withdrawal from the UPU, USPS finally provided some information at the MTAC Membership Assembly on Wednesday, June 19. Giselle Valera made a short presentation and answered questions from the MTAC members for slightly less than 15 minutes. While assuring the audience, “USPS is committed to serving its international customers, and is actively working on solutions to minimize disruptions in the even the US withdraws from the UPU”, the presentation itself raised questions about the potential disruption to inbound and outbound U.S. international mail. We are less than 4 months from the date of withdrawal.
“USPS anticipates some changes to geographic coverage may result from exiting”: Since now the USPS provides worldwide coverage to all countries, changes to geographic coverage means we will not be able to send mail via USPS to some countries. This is confirmed as a possibility by Ms. Valera’s oral comments. We have no idea which countries these will be. They hope to let us know by an August or September timeframe. This means we will be planning for peak season without knowing if we can deliver to all countries through USPS.
“Rate changes are likely to follow the current, normal, annual cycle schedule that our customers expect, unless costs increase significantly”: Many international postal policy experts expect there will be increases and these may be substantial as other countries respond to U.S. self-declared rates with equivalent increases in their rates for incoming mail from the U.S. The amount of an increase needed to move the USPS to file for a postal rate increase outside the current cycle is unknown.
“USPS intends to keep our major international products and services for export”: While orally listing these products, regular letters—transactional mail for many mailers—were not mentioned. Whether this was an inadvertent oversight is unclear, but can only hope it was. In response to a question about incoming mail, Ms. Valera said that it would depend on bilateral agreement with other posts and their “willingness and capability to be ready”.
Although the UPU International Bureau’s Memorandum of April 5, 2019, said, ‘the U.S. Postal Service would no longer be a “designated operator.” Any postal traffic to and from the United States would no longer be “postal services” but considered “cargo.”’, Ms. Valera stated the USPS will continue to use CN documentation (postal customs forms), perhaps with slight changes, in her oral remarks. To continue to use CN documentation would require the agreement of other parties. Whether agreement(s) will be, in place by mid-October is also unknown. If the USPS changes to other documents, mailers shipping goods during peak season will have little or no advance notice of the required changes to documentation.
Other documentation was not mentioned, such as the tags and labels used to send mail between countries as mail, rather than as commercial freight or cargo. UPU Director General Bishar Hussein has said, “If the U.S. were to withdraw from the UPU, it would lose access to global processing and coding systems that make international mail possible…” Those coding systems, property of the UPU, are on the tags and labels for international mail transport.
Military and diplomatic mail destined
to those deployed in other countries (APO, FPO, and DPO addresses) were also
not discussed. Although the USPS handles these items as domestic mail, they go
to other countries and there is concern about disruption, as discussed in
Bloomberg Government’s article, “Troops’ Mail at Risk If U.S. Leaves International Postal
It is not clear whether the USPS will have effective shipping solutions after leaving the UPU framework, working with new postal partnerships and a commercial partnership. On a personal note, I am sure USPS executives, management and staff are concerned and are working to continue to provide worldwide inbound and outbound international mail coverage. Whether they will be able to get agreements from all the necessary parties is the question. This goes beyond the postal administrations or governments of the other 191 UPU member countries, potentially including the customs agencies in those countries and the World Customs Organization and the UPU itself.
About the author: Merry Law, President of WorldVu LLC, is editor of the authoritative Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats and author of Best Practices for International Mailings. She is a member of the Universal Postal Union’s addressing work group and of the U.S. International Postal and Delivery Services Federal Advisory Committee. Merry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.