trumpThe global postal system isn’t perfect – a birthday card may get lost; a package may arrive late – but it’s still an impressive order of international cooperation. That’s thanks to the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a 144-year-old specialized agency of the United Nations that coordinates the worldwide postal system and regulates postal costs. President Trump threatened to leave the organization – a move many feared would cause massive disruptions to the global mail system – if it did not restructure its postal fees. Though an agreement was finally reached in Geneva last month averting the United States’ withdrawal that left the international community breathing a sigh of relief.

The primary concern of the United States has been the discounted rates available to developing countries set in the 1960s. The arcane agreement has allowed countries like China – now the world’s second largest economy – to pay far less to send a small package to the US than what it costs American businesses to ship one from Los Angeles to New York. “The United States and the Europeans have been flooded with e-commerce goods that come from China and other countries,” said lawyer and UPU expert James Campbell. “We are delivering those goods at terminal dues rates that are substantially less than what the Postal Service charges mailers for the same service.”

In case of withdrawal

Though the outdated system needed reform, the United States withdrawal would have wreaked havoc on the global postal system as we know it. It would have been a “nightmare scenario,” warned UPU director-general, Bishar Hussein. Customs departments would have struggled to handle mail causing massive delays and backups, US stamps would have no longer been recognized abroad, the movement of e-commerce goods would have been disrupted during the peak of the holiday shopping season,  and just months away from the 2020 primaries, millions of Americans living overseas would have struggled to cast their votes.

In the age of e-commerce (2015 saw a 12.1% increase in international parcel traffic), expat shoppers buying products from the US-based Amazon would have likely seen a spike in shipping costs. “Prices to ship via the postal network … It’s going to cost more,” said Kate Muth, executive director of the International Mailers Advisory Group, which counts companies like eBay, DHL, Amazon, USPS or their affiliates as members. “The rates are going to go up.” Companies would have had to handle price increases either by enduring the costs themselves or passing them onto customers. Though now that an agreement has been reached Amazon spokesperson Thorsten Schwindhammer told Metropole, “We support the recently-approved UPU reform package which will guarantee fair international shipping rates for all, including the millions of small and medium-sized businesses that use Amazon to reach customers around the globe.”

The US may now apply their self-declared new rates starting July 2020. “Consumers will continue to have the same access to international mail,” said the US Embassy in a press statement to Metropole. As for the other 192 UPU members, they can begin phasing in their own increases. “By January 2021 terminal dues will rise more substantially,” Peter Koller, Head of International Affairs for the Austrian Post told Metropole. “The Austrian domestic market and the Austrian Post will benefit.” Expats living abroad can rest easy knowing they can continue to send and receive mail, just in time for elections and the holiday season. For now, business will continue as usual.

(Foto credit: Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

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Bridget Carter is an international relations graduate student at Webster Vienna Private University where her areas of focus include post-conflict development and gender dimensions of migration. She was born in Texas, grew up in California, lived in Bangkok, and now calls Vienna home. She is an avid traveler, inspirational-reads enthusiast, and health-food junkie. She also likes to step out on foot and marvel at the common, and not-so-common, wonders of Vienna.