With the Universal Postal Union (UPU) recently holding its 4th Extraordinary Congress the first week of October, the third such Congress in the last five years, assessing the overall worldwide delivery network helps put the UPU’s agenda in perspective.

    The continuing increase in cross-border packages from e-retailers has created an opportunity for increased revenues from the delivery of these packages for both postal operators and private delivery companies. In most cases in the developed and developing countries, delivery continues smoothly. Changes in customs and tax regulations have created some problems; these are usually overcome in a matter of weeks as the purchasers, sellers, and companies in the fulfillment and transportation chain adjust to the new requirements. After recently writing about failed and failing postal operators, it’s important to say that most postal operators, along with other delivery companies, generally perform well. Mailers do need to pay attention to delivery reliability and watch for events that will hinder delivery, such as extreme weather and civil violence.

    In countries with a liberalized postal sector allowing postal competition, delivery can be by the official, or designated, postal operator, postal competitors, or private delivery companies. (All developed countries except the US and Canada and many developing countries allow postal-sector competition.) Competition provides options when the designated postal operator does not perform well. However, if international mail is sent via the USPS, it is sent to the designated postal operator in the destination country.

    Many designated postal operators add other communication services to basic mail delivery: notification by SMS for items in a post office box, email and other electronic messaging services, and mobile phone service. Additionally, many designated operators provide various financial services, such as banking and insurance. These can assist in maintaining profitability or can provide services in areas where they are otherwise not available. Designated postal operators may also offer government services, from applying for and renewing passports and drivers’ licenses to paying taxes and utility bills.

    This Extraordinary Congress has approved opening the UPU to a wider membership in limited ways, agreeing on green initiatives and goals, and modifying and expanding the agreements on postal financial products. The expansion of limited membership to, in UPU’s terminology, Wider Postal Sector Players (or WPSPs) could include private delivery and logistics companies; e-retailers; financial service providers; air, rail, and ocean transport companies; and customs organizations, among others. We’ll see whether the terms interest the private sector, but the UPU is interested in the potential income from membership and other fees and (in the case of some countries) in partnering with the private sector companies to improve postal service.

    Environmental concerns are on the agenda as well. The UPU has encouraged global emissions reduction targets across the postal sector. A comprehensive "Green Package" proposal was presented and passed by the Extraordinary Congress. Environmental issues are very controversial in the international arena, as less developed countries have concerns with meeting the same or similar standards as the highly developed countries.

    The Extraordinary Congress took up improving the UPU’s legal structure for financial services. While the USPS cannot offer banking and insurance services without Congressional action, most designated operators do offer some financial services. The delegates also approved establishing conditions for creating connections with WPSPs for postal payments.

    The UPU is exploring greater interoperability — the ability for different hardware, software, and apps to communicate and exchange data — to further communication between postal operators and others. With 192 member countries at various stages of development, interoperability can further all the UPU objectives.

    The results of what passed at the Extraordinary Congress are the first step. After that, exact language of various regulations and agreements will need to be analyzed, along with budget allocations. And this year, for the first time, how the WPSPs in the private sector react to the member countries’ proposals for their participation.

    Merry Law is President of WorldVu LLC and the editor of Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats. She is a member of the UPU’s Addressing Work Group and of the U.S. International Postal and Delivery Services Federal Advisory Committee.

    This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.