Global postal union meets amid Trump threat to pull US out

The Morning Call - - BUSINESS CYCLE - By Jamey Keaten

GENEVA — The ef­fects of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s stand­off with China could soon be com­ing to a post of­fice near you — and higher ship­ping rates for some types of mail are the likely out­come.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is threat­en­ing to pull the United States out of the 145-year-old Univer­sal Postal Union, com­plain­ing that some postal car­ri­ers like China’s aren’t pay­ing enough to have for­eign ship­ments de­liv­ered to U.S. re­cip­i­ents.

A show­down looms at a spe­cial UPU congress that is be­ing held Tues­day to Thurs­day in Geneva.

The com­plaint cen­ters on the re­im­burse­ment that the U.S. Postal Ser­vice re­ceives for pro­vid­ing fi­nal de­liv­er­ies of bulky let­ters and small parcels sent from abroad — usu­ally ones not weigh­ing more than about 41⁄2 pounds. Such mail can in­clude high-value items such as mo­bile phones, mem­ory sticks or phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

For con­sumers, the is­sue has largely been over­looked.

“What­ever hap­pens, 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 might have to de­cide in­di­vid­u­ally how to man­age such in­creased rates, ei­ther by swal­low­ing the costs or pass­ing them on to cus­tomers.

One of the few com­pa­nies to chime in pub­licly has been eBay, whose grass­roots net­work has warned of pos­si­ble “ser­vice dis­rup­tions and dra­mat­i­cally in­creased costs for ship­ping through the US Postal Ser­vice” if the United States pulls out.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion com­plains that China and many other coun­tries get to pay lower re­im­burse­ments be­cause they’re clas­si­fied as de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, putting U.S. com­pa­nies at a dis­ad­van­tage. It wants postal ser­vices like USPS to set their own rates — and right away, not months from now.

“To­day, man­u­fac­tur­ers in coun­tries as small as Cambodia and as large as China pay less to send small parcels from their coun­tries to New York than U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ers do to ship pack­ages from Los An­ge­les to the Big Ap­ple,” Trump trade ad­viser Peter Navarro wrote in the Fi­nan­cial Times on Sept. 11.

Navarro said the U.S. op­poses one of three op­tions be­ing con­sid­ered that would main­tain lim­its on the amount that postal sys­tems like the USPS can charge over­seas ship­pers.

The meet­ing may also be a test for a grow­ing bat­tle of diplo­matic clout: China has been ratch­et­ing up its pres­ence in mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, while the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been largely shun­ning them.

The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce and others have praised the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which has led a mul­ti­tiered chal­lenge to China’s ris­ing eco­nomic might no­tably on trade is­sues, for fi­nally step­ping up to try to level an al­legedly un­fair play­ing field that has been be­moaned by sev­eral U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tions.

In a Sept. 16 let­ter to Navarro pro­vided to The Associated Press, the cham­ber’s chief pol­icy of­fi­cer, Neil Bradley, wrote that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s walk­out threat has put the UPU “on the brink of ac­cept­ing the most mean­ing­ful re­form to in­ter-postal com­pen­sa­tion ar­range­ments in 50 years.”

NATI HARNIK/AP 2017

The U.S. is threat­en­ing to pull out of the 145-year-old Univer­sal Postal Union.

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