Global Postal System Fast-Tracks Rate Review After Trump Pullout Threat

By Heidi Vogt

Discounts established to help less-developed countries have continued to apply even as China has become a major e-commerce shipper.

WASHINGTON—A Trump administration threat to pull out of a global mail system over its discounted shipping rates from China could spur a change in those rates as early as April, the head of the United Nations agency that oversees the system said.The U.S. last week started a year long process to withdraw from the 144-year-old Universal Postal Union because it had failed to eliminate international discounts. Those discounts, aimed at helping developing countries, have continued to apply to China even as it has grown to become the world’s second-largest economy. They can make it cheaper to ship small packages from China to the U.S. than from locations within the U.S.

The move was the latest salvo by the Trump administration against China and a reminder of the president’s willingness to abandon international organizations that he says don’t help U.S. interests. American manufacturers welcomed the move, saying the flood of cheap goods from China undercut their business. The UPU, which is now holding previously scheduled council meetings, commissioned a report Tuesday that is the first step toward fast-tracking new rates, Director General Bishar Hussein said in an interview.

“If we work fast enough, and the member countries are all in consensus on these issues and decisions are made, by April next year I think it is a possibility,” Mr. Hussein said.The discounts also benefit countries including Russia and Mexico. The U.S. has stressed that its decision isn’t only about China, though that obviously is a large factor. Administration officials have said the lower rates cost the U.S. Postal Service some $300 million a year, with discounts ranging from 40% to 70%. Mr. Hussein said he welcomed the move by the U.S. if it manages to reform the group’s “archaic” rates.

“Now with the U.S. coming in and saying, ‘Sorry, enough is enough,’ I think this is going to take the conversation to another level, and I’m very happy to see that,” Mr. Hussein said.

Mr. Hussein stressed that even a fast-tracked process has many steps, including the research report, a proposal and a vote by members. At least half of the organization’s 192 members have to vote for a proposal to be considered, and it can pass only with a two-thirds majority.

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, and it would have to negotiate bilateral postal agreements with every individual country, Mr. Hussein said. The U.S. has said it hopes to negotiate a solution that keeps it from having to withdraw from the UPU, but also has said it is proceeding with a plan to institute “self-declared” rates that could take effect within six months.

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