After months of silence on questions related to the potential US withdrawal from the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the 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 that, “USPS is committed to serving its international customers, and is actively working on solutions to minimize disruptions in the event the US withdraws from the UPU,” the presentation itself raised questions about the potential disruption to inbound and outbound US international mail. This is especially concerning given the fact that we are less than four months from the date of withdrawal.

“USPS anticipates some changes to geographic coverage may result from exiting.” Translation: Since the USPS currently 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, but we have no idea which countries these will be. They hope to let us know by August or September (although the timeframe is still tentative). 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.” Translation: Many international postal policy experts expect there will be increases, and these may be substantial as other countries respond to US self-declared rates with equivalent increases in their rates for incoming mail from the US. 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.” Translation: While orally listing these products, regular letters — transactional mail for many mailers — were not mentioned. Whether this was an inadvertent oversight is unclear, but we 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, consider the fact that 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, such as the tags and labels used to send mail between countries as mail, rather than as commercial freight or cargo, was not mentioned. UPU Director General Bishar Hussein has said, “If the US 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 Pact”.

The USPS is assuring us they have developed a plan and have a dedicated team working to ensure they will have effective shipping solutions after leaving the UPU framework by 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.

Stay tuned for more updates.

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.