WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials are preparing for the aftermath of a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to proceed with U.S. withdrawal from the 144-year-old Universal Postal Union should last-minute talks to salvage their relationship fail.
The Trump administration announced last year that the United States may exit from the 1874 treaty that is the basis for the UPU, a Swiss-based international organization that coordinates mail activities among its 192 member nations and territories.
The U.S. stance reflects complaints by American businesses that inbound packages sent from China and other countries enjoy lower rates than what domestic shippers pay.
The U.S. Department of Defense’s Military Postal Service Agency last year oversaw the delivery of more than 88,000 tons of packages and letters sent or received by overseas soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and federal employees at about 1.2 million post office boxes, unit mail rooms, buildings and other delivery points, according to a report in Stars and Stripes. It said it must now plan how to keep all that mail moving in the face of any disruption caused by the U.S. exit from the treaty.
“The big fight is over delivery charges,” James Campbell Jr., a Washington-based attorney who specializes in regulations concerning international shipping, told the news organization. “The Trump administration is saying that we are delivering Chinese packages in particular — but all foreign e-commerce packages, really — for somewhere between a third to half of what we’re charging Americans for the same service. That’s crazy.”
The U.S. is slated to drop out of the postal union treaty in October unless changes are made by the Bern, Switzerland-based body that governs the system. Because the treaty has been in effect so long and includes almost all of the world’s nations, the effects of withdrawal are unpredictable.
U.S. pushes a ‘new opportunity’ for collaboration
The UPU said this month that 128 members, or two-thirds of its total, have expressed support for convening the Third International Congress in Geneva from September 24-25 to discuss the “terminal dues” system just ahead of the planned U.S. withdrawal.
The meeting “will provide a new opportunity for UPU members to collaborate and develop solutions to end the distortionary effects associated with excessively low rates for certain foreign origin mail,” the U.S. Postal Service said in a statement to Stars and Stripes.
The service is undertaking “parallel efforts” in the event the U.S. withdraws from the treaty, including “addressing and prioritizing military mailing issues,” it said. The Pentagon is also developing plans in case a nation hosting U.S. forces curtails mail delivery.
If host nations such as Germany, Italy, Portugal, the U.K., Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Kuwait, Australia, Japan, and South Korea were only dealing with a U.S. withdrawal from the UPU treaty, it’s unlikely they would abrogate agreements governing military mail, according to the report.
However, the Trump administration is at odds with European allies over its unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and Trump has frequently criticized fellow NATO members. As a result, some countries may be unwilling to negotiate a new postal agreement with the United States.
UPU is one of the two earliest international organizations that became United Nations-affiliated agencies in the late 1940s. The 1874 Treaty of Bern, resulting from a Swiss-hosted international conference in the nation’s capital to regulate mail delivery among nations, created the UPU.
The 1865 International Telegraph Convention in Paris created the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, in Geneva. In 1992, the ITU Constitution and Convention became its governing treaty.
The first international organization dates to a European treaty more than two centuries ago to oversee ship tolls, towpaths and trade disputes on the Rhine River. The river administration created by the Treaty of 15 October 1804 between the French Empire and Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation evolved into the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine.