The Universal Postal Union (UPU)
THE UNIVERSAL POSTAL
Every day, more than 1.2 billion letters are posted for delivery within national borders, accounting for more than 430 billion letters each year. In addition, each day, close to 20 million pieces of mail cross international boundaries, accounting for nearly 7.4 billion items posted in international service (over a third of them by developing countries) and are swiftly and safely delivered to their destinations. To handle this traffic, postal services employ more than 6 million employees who work at or out of some 700,000 permanent post office outlets around the globe. The orderly and economical movement of international mail is made possible by the Constitution and Convention of the Universal Postal Union, the basic Acts under which the UPU operates. Since 190 countries now come under these Acts, the provisions affect virtually the entire world population. Under the Constitution, UPU member countries form a single postal territory for the reciprocal exchange of letter-post items, and freedom of transit is guaranteed throughout the entire territory of the Union.
Although generally taken for granted, present-day postal service is of relatively recent origin. The use of postage stamps for prepayment of postage was not introduced until 1840, when the United Kingdom established a unified postage charge, the famous penny rate, to be paid by the sender of a letter regardless of the distance it had to travel. Until that year, the postal fee based on distance was often very high and was not paid by the sender but by the addressee. If the addressee could not pay, the letter was returned. Gradually, other countries introduced adhesive stamps, and their use spread to international mail. In 1863, on the initiative of the United States, representatives of 15 postal administrations met in Paris to consider the problem of standardizing international postal practices.
The decisive development came with the meeting of the first international Postal Congress at Bern in 1874, at the suggestion of the German government. The Bern Congress was attended by delegates from 22 countries: 20 European countries (including Russia), Egypt, and the United States. The congress adopted a treaty concerning the establishment of a General Postal Union—commonly known as the Bern Treaty—signed on 9 October 1874. This was the forerunner of the series of multilateral Universal Postal Union conventions and came into force in the following year, when the union was formally established, on 1 July 1875, to administer its operative regulations.
The 1874 Convention provided for subsequent postal congresses to revise the convention in the light of economic and technical developments. The second congress, held in Paris in 1878, changed the name of the General Postal Union to the Universal Postal Union (UPU). Four more congresses were held prior to World War I: Lisbon, 1885; Vienna, 1891; Washington, 1897; and Rome, 1906. There were five congresses between the wars: Madrid, 1920; Stockholm, 1924; London, 1929; Cairo, 1934; and Buenos Aires, 1939. The first post–World War II congress met in Paris in 1947 and arranged for the UPU to be recognized as a specialized agency of the UN family in 1948. Other congresses met at Brussels, 1952; Ottawa, 1957; Vienna, 1964; Tokyo, 1969; Lausanne, 1974; Rio de Janeiro, 1979; Hamburg, 1984; Washington, 1989; Seoul, 1994, Beijing, 1999; and Bucharest, 2004.
The basic objective of the union was stated in the 1874 Convention, reiterated in all successive revisions, and embodied in the constitution: "The countries adopting this Constitution comprise, under the title of the Universal Postal Union, a single postal territory for the reciprocal exchange of letter-post items." The 1924 congress added: "It is also the object of the Postal Union to secure the organization and improvement of the various international postal services." The 1947 congress added another clause: "and to promote the development of international collaboration in this sphere."
In recognition of the union's continued interest and newly assumed responsibilities in the field of development aid, the congress held in Vienna in 1964 enlarged the UPU's goals to include the provision of postal technical assistance to member states. Under the single-territory principle, all the union's member countries are bound by the constitution and convention to observe certain fundamental rules pertaining to ordinary mail. Ordinary mail under the Lausanne Convention includes letters, postcards, printed papers, small packets, and literature for the blind, such as books in Braille. Although the convention lays down basic postage rates for ordinary mail sent to addresses in UPU territory, variations are permitted within generous limits. Postal authorities of all member states are pledged to handle all mail with equal care, regardless of its origin and destination, and to expedite mail originating in other UPU countries on a level comparable to the best means of conveyance used for their own mail.
In the past, foreign mail was delivered to its destination without charge to the country where it was posted, and each country retained the postage collected on international mail. Since mid-1971, however, where there is an imbalance between mail sent and received, the postal administration of the country receiving the larger quantity is authorized to ask for repayment at a standard rate (fixed by the Postal Congress) to offset its excess costs. However, each country reimburses, at standard rates fixed by the Universal Postal Congress, all intermediary countries through which its mail passes in transit.
Freedom of transit—the basic principle of the union—is guaranteed throughout UPU territory. Specific regulations provide for the dispatch of mail and for the return of undeliverable mail to the sender. Certain articles, such as opium and other drugs and inflammable or explosive agents, are excluded from the international mails.
Four optional postal agreements supplement the convention. They cover parcel mail, money orders, giro (postal checks), and cash on delivery.
The original treaty allowed "overseas" countries to be admitted to the union subject to the agreement of administrations having postal relations with them. The 1878 congress decreed, however, that any country could accede directly to the union merely by unilateral declaration and communication of that declaration to the Swiss government. This system was revised by the Paris congress of 1947, which ruled that applications for membership in the union could be filed only by sovereign states and had to be channeled through the Swiss government. Approval is then required by at least two-thirds of the full membership. At the 1964 Vienna Congress, it was also decided that any member nation of the UN could accede directly to the UPU by a formal declaration addressed to the Swiss government. Since Washington Congress 1989, the government of the country concerned will address it directly to the Director General of the International Bureau, who will notify the member countries of the accession or consult with them on the application for admission, as the case may be.
Dependent territories were granted collective membership by a special postal conference held in Bern in 1876. Membership in the UPU as of May 2006 had reached 190 independent states.
RESTRICTED POSTAL UNIONS
Members of the UPU may establish restricted unions and make special agreements concerning the international postal service, provided always that they do not introduce provisions less favorable to the public than those provided for by the Acts of the UPU to which the member countries concerned are parties. Restricted unions are the Association of European Public Postal Operators (POSTEUROP), the Arab Permanent Postal Commission (APPC), the European Postal Financial Services Commission (CSFPE), the Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations of Central Africa (CAPTAC), the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), the African Posts and Telecommunications Union (APTU), the Baltic Postal Union (BPU), the Postal Union of the Americas, Spain and Portugal (PUASP), the African Postal Union (APU), the Pan African Postal Union (PAPU), the Asian-Pacific Postal Union (APPU), the Nordic Postal Union (NPU), and the South and West Asian Postal Union (SWAPU).
The permanent organs of the UPU are the Universal Postal Congress, the Council of Administration, the Postal Operations Council, and the International Bureau.
Universal Postal Congress
The Universal Postal Congress brings together the plenipotentiaries of all member countries and is the supreme authority of the Universal Postal Union. The congress meets in principle every five years. One of the major accomplishments of congresses held since the first Berne Congress in 1874 has been to allow UPU member countries to develop and integrate new products and services into the international postal network. In this way, such services as registered letters, postal money orders, international reply coupons, small packets, postal parcels, and expedited mail service, have been made available to the great majority of the world's citizens.
The congress' main function is legislative. However beginning in the late 1990s, the tendency was to increasingly delegate regulatory power to the two UPU councils, leaving the congress to focus on broad policy issues.
Council of Administration
The Council of Administration (CA), formerly called the Executive Council, consists of a chairman and 40 member countries and meets in principle each year at UPU headquarters in Berne. (The chairmanship of the Council of Administration is given automatically to the host country of the preceding Congress.) It ensures the continuity of the union's work between congresses, supervises union activities, and studies regulatory, administrative, legislative and legal issues of interest to the UPU. In order to ensure the agency's ability to react quickly to changes in the postal environment, the CA has been given the power to approve proposals from the Postal Operations Council for the adoption of regulations or new procedures until the next congress has decided on the matter. The CA can also take measures necessary to resolve urgent matters. The CA approves the annual budget and accounts of the UPU, as well as yearly updates of the UPU's Programme and Budget. It is also responsible for promoting and coordinating all aspects of technical assistance among member countries.
Postal Operations Council
The Postal Operations Council (POC), formerly called the Consultative Council for Postal Studies, is the technical and operational body of the UPU and consists of 40 elected member countries. It deals with the operational, economic, and commercial aspects of international postal services. At its first meeting after each Congress, the POC revises the regulations. It promotes the introduction of new postal products by collecting, analyzing, and making public the results of experiments with new products undertaken by some postal services. It also prepares and issues recommendations to member countries concerning standards for technological, operational, or other processes where uniformity of practice is essential. The POC's program focuses on helping postal services to modernize and upgrade their products, including not only letter
post but also expedited mail service, postal parcels, and postal financial services.
The chairmanship of the Postal Operations Council for the period between congresses is decided through election by the council.
The International Bureau, established by the Treaty of Berne in 1874, is located in Berne and provides secretariat and support facilities for the UPU's bodies. It serves as liaison, provides information and consultation services, and promotes technical cooperation among UPU members. It also acts as a clearing house for the settlement of accounts between postal administrations for inter-administration charges related to the exchange of postal items and international reply coupons.
The International Bureau is responsible for ensuring the representation of the UPU in its external relations, notably with international organizations. However, it does not intervene in relations between postal administrations and their customers.
In the new UPU structure approved by the Seoul Congress (1994), the International Bureau took on a stronger leadership role in certain activities, including the application of Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) technology and monitoring the quality of postal service on a global scale. To carry out its activities, the International Bureau implemented modern management techniques including total quality management, a strategic planning process, and a performance evaluation system based on individual objectives.
Since 1992, the UPU has pursued zero real growth budgeting, maintaining its annual budget increases at or below the level of inflation. The 1996 budget was set at 35 million Swiss francs, where, as of 2006, it remained. The UPU's budget expenses are financed jointly by member countries, based on a contribution class system. Upon admission to the UPU, new member countries are free to choose one of ten contribution classes ranging from one to 50 units. An additional contribution class of one-half unit is reserved for the least developed countries. There are at present five countries with the maximum of 50 contribution units.
A. Clearing accounts for international services
The UPU acts as a central office for the international postal traffic carried on by its members. In principle, UPU member states retain the revenue they derive from the sale of postage stamps and from other fees and charges for foreign-bound mail. Administrations must, however, reimburse one another for the transportation of foreign mail in intermediate transit and for the imbalance between international mail sent and received (terminal dues). At the end of each year, the International Bureau draws up an annual general clearing account for transit and terminal charges, stating the balances due.
Every two years the International Bureau publishes a general clearing account for the international reply coupons that it supplies to facilitate payment of international correspondence. Some 165 countries now sell these coupons, and all countries must accept them as payment for postage.
B. Information services
The UPU acts as an international clearinghouse for postal information. At the request of postal administrations, the International Bureau circulates inquiries concerning the operation of the various postal systems and makes the replies available to all UPU members. Inquiries may concern domestic, as well as international, postal practices and cover subjects as diverse as the texts of propaganda permitted on letters and packages, mobile post offices on motorboats, the opening of new offices of exchange, introduction of summer time, and national regulations for the dispatch of radioactive substances.
The International Bureau publishes a number of international postal handbooks, including the following: Postal Statistics (internal and international); List of Prohibited Articles (prohibited from the mails); and the Multilingual Vocabulary of the International Postal Service, designed to ensure that terms used by different national postal services convey an identical meaning. The bureau also prepares an annotated edition of UPU legislation, which includes discussion of principles, opinions, decisions, and practices underlying current international postal procedures and the present organization of the union.
C. Arbitration and interpretation of international postal rules
If a difference of opinion on the interpretation of UPU legislation between two or more postal administrations cannot be resolved by direct negotiations, the matter is settled by in-house arbitration. The countries concerned may also designate a single arbitrator, such as the International Bureau of the UPU.
D. Revision of rules and adoption of guidelines for
The main function of the Universal Postal Congress, as noted above, is to study and revise the acts of the union on the basis of proposals put forward by member countries, the Council of Administration, and the Postal Operations Council. At the 23rd Congress, held in Bucharest, Romania, in 2004, the most important decisions taken were: the adoption of the Bucharest World Postal Strategy, a four-year roadmap for governments, postal operators, and the bodies of the UPU; the creation of a Consultative Committee, a new UPU body that represents the interests of external stakeholders and private sector partners in the work of the UPU; the adoption of a complete package of proposals aimed at making the system used to compensate postal administrations for processing and delivering letter mail coming from other countries (called terminal dues) more country-specific and reflective of real costs; the approval of a new country classification system that is in line with that of the UN Development Programme (UNDP); the introduction of a Quality of Service Fund that will ensure that the countries most in need get more funds for improving their postal infrastructure and quality of service; the adoption of a worldwide quality of service standard and targets for international mail services; the adoption of a series of resolutions highlighting the need to improve security, combat terrorism and money laundering through the use of the mail network; decisions to modernize and expand postal financial services through the use of modern technology such as electronic fund transfers and computerized accounting methods; the adoption of a proposal to amend the UPU Convention to legally define the Electronic Postmark (EPM), formally recognizing it as a new optional postal service; the adoption of a resolution ruling that items sent through extraterritorial offices of exchange (ETOEs) are to be considered as commercial items not subject to the UPU Acts, and that any country or operator wishing to set up an ETOE on the territory of a UPU member country must obtain prior agreement from the host country; measures to make postal parcels more competitive; and measures to enhance awareness of environmental protection. The 24th Congress is due to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2008.
E. Technical assistance
The principle of technical assistance is contained in Article 1 of the UPU constitution; it was couched in general terms in order to give the union flexibility in the use of all forms of technical cooperation, present and future.
Requests for UPU assistance in technical cooperation matters cover all sectors: planning, organization, management, operations, training, and financial services. The aid provided comes in three forms: recruiting and sending experts, consultants, or volunteers; granting vocational training or further training fellowships for individual or group courses; and supplying equipment and training or demonstration aids.
The UPU executes country and intercountry projects covering all aspects of the postal services and the three components of experts, fellowships, and equipment. Projects common to several countries, which form a very important part of this program, make it possible to solve, economically and rationally, the problems that arise in a given region, especially by setting up intercountry postal training schools. These regional and interregional projects are carried out in conjunction with the restricted postal unions and the UN regional commissions.
In the 1990s, the UPU undertook a global Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) project. Through the development of computer applications that facilitate international mail processing and allow exchange of electronic data, postal services have the ability to track mail shipments from end to end and to provide customers with tracking information on time-certain products such as expedited mail service (EMS). It is expected that within a few years, exchanges of postal data via EDI will become a common feature of the majority of postal services.
Funds from the UPU budget make it possible to provide additional assistance to that of UNDP—namely, in the form of short consultant missions of three months at most, at the request of the postal administration concerned. A noteworthy feature is that, for many missions, the consultants' countries of origin also share the cost of this form of technical cooperation by continuing to pay all or part of the salaries of their officials during the mission. At the same time, since 1991 the UPU also has funded integrated projects incorporating short-term consultants' missions, vocational training fellowships, and items of minor equipment. The UPU Special Fund, set up in 1966 and maintained by voluntary contributions from member countries, is mainly designed to finance training and to further training activities in the form of fellowships, equipment, and training courses or study cycles. Some developed countries provide the International Bureau with funds for the management of associate experts in order to supplement the staff of ongoing projects and to give young people with sufficient training the opportunity to improve their professional qualifications.
Lastly, under a resolution adopted by the Council of Administration in 1967, governments may avail themselves of technical assistance instead of payment, which they finance themselves from funds in trust; the International Bureau then undertakes to manage the projects implemented in this way. Of course, the UPU, through the International Bureau, continues to act as an intermediary, wherever expedient, for supplying assistance in kind to developing countries on the basis of offers from developed countries. It also has made a special effort in the field of vocational training by assessing the needs to be met and listing the facilities available in the various member countries. This effort is reflected in the establishment or reinforcement of national or multinational schools and the organization of study cycles for the further training of senior staff and of instructor-training courses; with this aid, a large number of postal administrations now have qualified postal instructors.
F. Postal Studies
The 1989 Washington Congress adopted the practice of having major UPU studies divided into specific sub-study areas. The major technical studies covered the following areas: the post and its markets (commercial strategies, delivery network and customer analysis, press and publishing, parcel-post products/services), development of rapid services (EMS and electronic mail), operations and quality of service (improvement of the postal system, monitoring, mail circulation standards), modernization (automation, coding, telematics, technology research), management (international accounting, productivity indices, security, decentralization), human resources (adapting to the demands of competition, training), and postal development.
UPU reports are published as the Collection of Postal Studies, which is available in four languages.
Packet Service. In the early colonial period transatlantic news and mail usually came aboard merchant vessels. Caribbean islands received the news first, as ship captains sailed there first, then to the North or South American mainland colonies. To improve communications with its colonies during the War of Spanish Succession, England established a packet service to the West Indies in 1702. Packets were small armed vessels that carried only the mail. During the initial phases of the French and Indian War, the English government began a direct packet service to the North American mainland. In 1755 a monthly packet commenced operations between Falmouth, England, and New York City; by 1763 service had extended to Boston and Charleston. Inter-colonial packet routes also linked such places as Charleston with Pensacola and St. Augustine, Florida.
Problems on Land. After a packet docked at a port, post riders delivered the mail to various destinations. The arrival of a post rider in a colonial American community was usually a significant event, as people anxiously awaited letters from loved ones, overseas business correspondence, newspapers, or even the latest rumors from the post rider himself. By the early 1750s a coastal post road connected Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, Charleston, and Savannah, but because of the great distances involved and insufficient demand, postal service was sporadic and undependable. Through the efforts of Deputy Postmaster Andrew Hamilton in the late seventeenth century, mail service had improved in the Northern colonies, but the South lagged behind.
The seasons and weather presented the greatest challenges to post riders, who worked in relays. While some operated under a royal warrant, others, especially in the Carolinas and Georgia, were employed by private companies. An express rider from New York to Virginia could seldom accomplish his trip in less than three weeks. Low wages caused some riders to supplement their income by selling household goods or cattle along the routes. As a result mail was frequently delayed. Postal rates varied from colony to colony, from as low as two pence per letter to as high as three shillings per newspaper.
Franklin. Postal deliveries were more frequent and reliable after Benjamin Franklin became deputy postmaster general for the American colonies in 1753. (He served with William Hunter until 1761; Hunter was replaced after his death by John Foxcroft.) Franklin had lobbied for two years to receive this position, having acted as postmaster of Philadelphia since 1737. As a prominent printer he had an interest in creating an efficient postal system that could deliver newspapers to larger colonial audiences. In 1754, 1755, 1756, and 1763 Franklin made inspection tours of branch offices, recommending to local postmasters ways to improve speed and frequency of delivery. Franklin and Hunter standardized rates and approved the free exchange of newspapers between publishers (long a custom in England), a practice that remained unchanged in the United States until the 1870s. Post riders received 80 percent of the revenue from newspaper postage while the other 20 percent went to the postmasters. Consequently the post office became the agent of newspaper publishers.
SPREADING THE WORD: NEWS OF LEXINGTON AND CONCORD
|Source: David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 324-325.|
|19 Apr.||10a.m.||Watertown, Mass.|
|12 p.m.||Worcester, Mass.||express rider|
|afternoon||Newburyport, Mass.||express rider|
|20 Apr.||early morn.||Portsmouth, N.H.||express rider|
|11 a.m.||Brooklyn, Conn.||express rider|
|2 p.m.||Woodstock, Conn.|
|3 p.m.||Pomfret, Conn.|
|4 p.m.||Norwich, Conn.||express rider|
|7 p.m.||New London, Conn.|
|21 Apr.||1 a.m||Lyme, Conn.|
|4 a.m.||Saybrook, Conn.|
|7 a.m.||Killingsworth, Conn,|
|8 a.m.||East Guilford, Conn.|
|10 a.m.||Guilford, Conn.|
|12 p.m.||Branford, Conn. New Haven, Conn,|
|22 Apr.||8 a.m.||Fairfield, Conn.|
|23 Apr.||4 p.m.||New York, N.Y.|
|24 Apr.||2 a.m.||New Brunswick, N.J.|
|6 a.m.||Princeton, N.J.|
|9 a.m.||Trenton, N.J.|
|25 Apr.||Christiana, Del.|
|Head of Elk, Md.|
|26 Apr.||Baltimore, Md.|
|28 Apr.||late night||Williamsburg, Va.||express rider|
|30 Apr.||Dumfries, Va.|
|1 May||King William, Va.|
|2 May||Surry, Va.|
|3 May||Smithfield, Va.|
|New Bern, N.C.||ship|
|4 May||Edenton, N.C.|
|5 May||Bath, N.C.|
|7 May||Onslow, N.C.|
|8 May||Wilmington, N.C.|
|9 May||Brunswick, N.C.|
|Shenandoah Valley, Va.|
|10 May||Georgetown, S.C.|
Results. By 1770 there were sixty-five post offices in the Thirteen Colonies. Careful record-keeping, increased responsibility of post riders (now traveling by day and night), consistent rates, shorter routes, and advertising of undelivered letters in the newspapers all encouraged confidence in the system. The important postal artery between Boston and Philadelphia saw the most improvement: it no longer took twenty-one days but six days for a letter and response between the two cities. Mail was sent three times a week from New York to Philadelphia in about thirty-three hours, ensuring a fairly constant stream of up-to-date news in the weekly papers. Nevertheless, Franklin’s reforms had little impact in the Southern colonies, where delivery remained haphazard and postmasters operated in chronic deficit.
Profit. Because of the reforms introduced by Franklin, the postal service made a profit each year for the Crown although critics noted that he appointed his son William, brother John, and New York business associate James Parker to postal positions. In 1774 royal officials “found it necessary” to remove Franklin from his position as deputy postmaster general of North America because of his involvement in obtaining private letters of Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson. Foxcroft then managed the General Post Office on his own, but with less-profitable results.
Finlay. On the eve of the Revolutionary War royal officials made another inspection of the colonial postal network. They appointed Hugh Finlay, who made a nine-month tour of post offices and roads from Falmouth, Maine, to Savannah, Georgia. In the North he found a reliable system with good roads but recommended alternative routes to avoid ferries. (He also noted the abundance of newspapers in the mail, which attested to the growing propaganda campaign against British rule.) In the South, Finlay discovered poor management and deplorable roads. Heavy sand and mud in some places quickly tired horses. The road from Charleston, South Carolina, to Wilmington, North Carolina, he said was “certainly the most tedious and disagreeable of any on the continent of North America.”
Revolutionary War. With the approach of an open breach with England, Patriot leaders used their own mail couriers and relied less on the “Parliamentary Post” as they called it. In 1772 the various committees of correspondence had installed a system of intercolonial news exchange. On 25 December 1775 the General Post Office ceased operating in the colonies. American officials attempted to utilize the system already in place, but with mixed results. While news of the Declaration of Independence spread fairly quickly (it was printed in Philadelphia two days after its passage; New York City, six days; and Boston, fourteen days), the war disrupted the collection of newspaper subscription fees. As a result some riders before setting out on their routes had to buy copies of newspapers themselves and find their own subscribers. Franklin served the United Colonies as postmaster general from late 1775 to 1776 and then resigned
to become U.S. commissioner to France. He was replaced by his son-in-law Richard Bache, who served until 1782, when he was replaced by Ebenezer Hazard. In October and December of that year Congress acted on Hazard’s recommendations and revised and codified postal regulations. Largely a continuation of the existing system, these regulations stayed in effect until 1792.
Ronald W. Clark, Benjamin Franklin: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1983);
Richard B. Kielbowicz, News in the Mail: The Press, Post Office, and Public Information, 1700-1860s (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989);
Ian K. Steele, The English Atlantic, 1675-1740: An Exploration of Communication and Community (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).