Universal Postal Union

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Universal Postal Union
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
Universal Postal Union Logo.svg
Formation9 October 1874; 144 years ago (1874-10-09)
TypeUnited Nations specialised agency
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersBern, Switzerland
Bishar Abdirahman Hussein
Parent organization
United Nations Economic and Social Council
Terra.png International relations portal

The Universal Postal Union (UPU, French: Union postale universelle), established by the Treaty of Bern of 1874,[1] is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that coordinates postal policies among member nations, in addition to the worldwide postal system. The UPU contains four bodies consisting of the Congress, the Council of Administration (CA), the Postal Operations Council (POC) and the International Bureau (IB). It also oversees the Telematics and Express Mail Service (EMS) cooperatives. Each member agrees to the same terms for conducting international postal duties. The UPU's headquarters are located in Bern, Switzerland.[2]

French is the official language of the UPU. English was added as a working language in 1994. The majority of the UPU's documents and publications – including its flagship magazine, Union Postale – are available in the United Nations' six official languages (French, English, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish).[3]


In the UPU Monument (Weltpostdenkmal) in Bern, bronze and granite, by René de Saint-Marceaux, the five continents join to transmit messages around the globe[4]

Prior to the establishment of the UPU, each country had to prepare a separate postal treaty with other nations if it wished to carry international mail to or from them. In some cases, senders would have to calculate postage for each leg of a journey, and find mail forwarders in a third country if there was no direct delivery.[5] To remove this complexity, the United States called for an International Postal Congress in 1863. This led Heinrich von Stephan, Royal Prussian and later German Minister for Posts, to found the Universal Postal Union. It is currently the third oldest international organization after the Rhine Commission and the International Telecommunication Union.

19th century[edit]

The UPU was created in 1874, initially under the name "General Postal Union", under the Treaty of Bern signed on October 9, 1874.[6] Four years later, the name was changed to "Universal Postal Union".[7]

The UPU established that:

  1. There should be a uniform flat rate to mail a letter anywhere in the world
  2. Postal authorities should give equal treatment to foreign and domestic mail
  3. Each country should retain all money it has collected for international postage.

One of the most important results of the UPU Treaty was that it ceased to be necessary, as it often had been previously, to affix the stamps of any country through which one's letter or package would pass in transit. The UPU provides that stamps of member nations are accepted for the entire international route. Toward the end of the 19th century, the UPU issued rules concerning stamp design, intended to ensure maximum efficiency in handling international mail. One rule specified that stamp values be given in numerals (denominations spelled out in letters not being universally comprehensible);[8] another, that member nations all use the same colors on their stamps issued for post cards (green), normal letters (red) and international mail (blue), a system that remained in use for several decades.[9]

20th century[edit]

After the foundation of the United Nations, the UPU became a specialized agency of the UN in 1948.[10]

In 1969, the UPU introduced a new system of payment where fees were payable between countries according to the difference in the total weight of mail between them. These fees were called terminal dues. This new system was fairer when traffic was heavier in one direction than the other. For example, in 2012, terminal dues for transit from China to the USA was 0.635 SDR/kg, or about 1 USD/kg.[11]

As this affected the cost of the delivery of periodicals, the UPU devised a new "threshold" system, which it later implemented in 1991.[12] The system sets separate letter and periodical rates for countries which receive at least 150 tonnes of mail annually. For countries with less mail, the original flat rate is still retained. The United States has negotiated a separate terminal dues formula with thirteen European countries that includes a rate per piece plus a rate per kilogram; it has a similar arrangement with Canada. The UPU also operates the system of international reply coupon and addresses concerns with ETOEs.

21st century[edit]

100 years of UPU commemorated on a US postage stamp

Early in the 21st century UPU members encountered serious problems triggered by the enormous increase in e-commerce originating from the Far East, especially China, where the terminal dues do not cover the unit costs of delivery in the destination countries, and the volumes are so big that the losses cannot be compensated by better terminal dues from other traffic.

In 2016, a new remuneration system was implemented with a focus on e-commerce,[13] but while the 2016 reform balanced the costs to the delivery services, postage costs for shippers are still asymmetric. As of 2018, US companies pay more than twice as much to mail an item from a US address to another US address than does a manufacturer in China to mail the exact same item to a US customer.[14][15][16]

On October 17, 2018, the United States declared its withdrawal from the UPU, effective October 17, 2019, with the US planning to switch to self-declared rates.[17] This followed upon the passage of the ENDS Act, which was introduced by Senator Bill Cassidy who objected to needless subsidy of Chinese shipments into the US:

Tweeted Donald Trump in April 2018,[18]

In September 2019, while a minister from Justin Trudeau's government punted questions on the subject to Canada Post, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business was of the same mind as Trump, when a spokesperson noted that:[19]


Standards are important prerequisites for effective postal operations and for interconnecting the global network. The UPU's Standards Board develops and maintains a growing number of international standards to improve the exchange of postal-related information between postal operators. It also promotes the compatibility of UPU and international postal initiatives. The organization works closely with postal handling organizations, customers, suppliers and other partners, including various international organizations. The Standards Board ensures that coherent regulations are developed in areas such as electronic data interchange (EDI), mail encoding, postal forms and meters. UPU standards are drafted in accordance with the rules given in Part V of the "General information on UPU Standards"[20] and are published by the UPU International Bureau in accordance with Part VII of that publication.

Member countries[edit]

  UPU member states, including dependencies covered by their membership
  UPU member state dependencies with separate membership
  state represented in UPU by another state
  special observer status
See List of members of the Universal Postal Union for full details.

All United Nations member states are allowed to become members of the UPU. A non-member state of the United Nations may also become a member if two-thirds of the UPU member countries approve its request. The UPU currently has 192 members (190 states and two joint memberships of dependent territories groups).

Member states of the UPU are the Vatican City and the 193 UN members except Andorra, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau. These four states have their mail delivered through another UPU member (France and Spain for Andorra, and the United States for the Compact of Free Association states).[21]

The newest member is South Sudan, which joined on 4 October 2011.

The overseas constituent countries the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten) are represented as a single UPU member, as are the entire British overseas territories. These members were originally listed separately as "Colonies, Protectorates, etc." in the Universal Postal Convention[22] and they were grandfathered in when membership was restricted to sovereign states.[23]

The Republic of China joined the UPU on 1 March 1914. After the People's Republic of China was founded, the Republic of China continued to represent China in the UPU, until the UPU decided on 13 April 1972 to recognize the People's Republic of China as the only legitimate Chinese representative. Because of this, International Reply Coupons are not available for Taiwan. Mail addressed to Taiwan must be delivered through either Japan or the United States. Mail had also been handled via Hong Kong until 1997, when the British colony was returned to the People's Republic of China.

The other states with limited recognition, such as Somaliland and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), also route their mail through third countries because the UPU will not allow[clarification needed] direct international deliveries. For example, the TRNC's mail goes via Turkey, Somaliland's mail via Ethiopia, and Kosovo via Serbia.

On 17 October 2018, the United States announced its intent to leave the union if treaty arrangements cannot be renegotiated.[24] The threats to leave were repeated in a political row over the potential accession of Palestine.[25]

Palestine, a UN observer state, was granted special observer status to the UPU in 1999, and in 2008 Israel agreed for Palestine's mail to be routed through Jordan,[26][27] though this had not been implemented as of November 2012.[28] As of 2016, Palestine will begin receiving direct mail [29] In November 2018, Palestine signed papers of accession to the UPU and intends on joining as a full member.[30]


The Universal Postal Congress is the most important body of the UPU. The main purpose of the quadrennial Congress is to examine proposals to amend the Acts of the UPU, including the UPU Constitution, General Regulations, Convention and Postal Payment Services Agreement. The Congress also serves as a forum for participating member countries to discuss a broad range of issues impacting international postal services, such as market trends, regulation and other strategic issues. The first UPU Congress was held in Bern, Switzerland in 1874. Delegates from 22 countries participated. UPU Congresses are held every four years and delegates often receive special philatelic albums produced by member countries covering the period since the previous Congress.[31]

Philatelic activities[edit]

The Universal Postal Union, in conjunction with the World Association for the Development of Philately, developed the WADP Numbering System (WNS). It was launched on 1 January 2002. The website[32] displays entries for 160 countries and issuing postal entities, with over 25,000 stamps registered since 2002. Many of them have images, which generally remain copyrighted by the issuing country, but the UPU and WADP permit them to be downloaded.

Electronic telecommunication[edit]

In some countries, telegraph and later telephones came under the same government department as the postal system. Similarly there was an International Telegraph Bureau, based in Bern, akin to the UPU.[33] The International Telecommunication Union currently facilitates international electronic communication.

In order to integrate postal services and the Internet, the UPU sponsors .post.[34][35] Developing their own standards, the UPU expects to unveil a whole new range of international digital postal services, including e-post. They have appointed a body, the .post group (DPG) to oversee the development of that platform.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Universal Postal Union - United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination". www.unsceb.org. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  2. ^ "The UPU". Universal Postal Union website. Retrieved 12 December 2010.
  3. ^ "Languages". Universal Postal Union. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  4. ^ A postage stamp honoring the sculptor and the monument was issued jointly by Switzerland and France.
  5. ^ Beam, Christopher. (2007-01-05) How international mail works. Slate.com. Retrieved on 2014-04-28.
  6. ^ Willoughby, Martin (1992). A History of Postcards. London England: Bracken Books. p. 31. ISBN 1858911621.
  7. ^ "About History". Universal Postal Union. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  8. ^ King, Beverly; Johl, Max (1937). The United States Postage Stamps of the Twentieth Century, Volume I. H. L. Lindquist., p. 104
  9. ^ "1898 Universal Postal Union Colors #279-284". Kenmore Stamp Company. Archived from the original on 2 November 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  10. ^ "About UN Specialized Agency". Universal Postal Union. Retrieved 9 October 2011.
  11. ^ "Universal Postal Union – Terminal dues and transit charges 2010–2013 …". 12 December 2012. Archived from the original on 12 December 2012. Retrieved 16 June 2017. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  12. ^ Adams, Cecil (12 December 1990). "Why Does the US Deliver Foreign Mail When We Don't Get Any Money for the Stamps?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 16 December 2010.
  13. ^ "Member countries adopt new terminal dues system | UPU". news.upu.int. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  14. ^ Smaldone, Jayme (7 February 2018). "This Subsidy for China and Russia Is Dumb as a Post" – via www.wsj.com.
  15. ^ https://psmag.com/economics/the-international-postal-system-is-profoundly-brokenand-nobody-is-paying-attention
  16. ^ Malone, Kenny (23 August 2018). "Unraveling The Mystery Behind International Shipping Rates" – via www.npr.org.
  17. ^ "Universal Postal Union Reviews Three Options for Remuneration". Steiner Associates, LLC. E-Commerce Bytes. 10 April 2019.
  18. ^ "GOP Senator moves to close shipping loophole that helps Chinese businesses on Amazon". CNBC. 10 April 2018.
  19. ^ "U.S. withdrawal from postal treaty could have implications for Canadian e-commerce businesses". The Globe and Mail Inc. 16 September 2019.
  20. ^ "UPU Postal Standardization Activities" (PDF). UPU. 2008. Retrieved 18 December 2010.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ Gough, JP (6 October 2005). "The Evolution of the Postal Service in the Era of the UPU". Web Mavin. Archived from the original on 18 December 2010. Retrieved 12 December 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  22. ^ "Universal Postal Convention". Universal Postal Union. 11 July 1952. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  23. ^ "Constitution of the Universal Postal Union". Universal Postal Union. 10 July 1964. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  24. ^ "Trump starts leaving postal union in latest anti-China move". Retrieved 17 October 2018.
  25. ^ RASGON, Adam (18 November 2018). "Times of Israel". Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  26. ^ "Palestinian parcel post gets a boost". Universal Postal Union (UPU). Retrieved 26 September 2010.
  27. ^ "Israel and Palestinians to boost postal services with help from UN agency". Un.org. Retrieved 24 October 2008.
  28. ^ New resolution adopted on Palestinian postal operations | UPU Archived April 29, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. News.upu.int (2012-03-22). Retrieved on 2014-04-28.
  29. ^ https://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Palestinians-to-receive-direct-mail-for-the-first-time-466872
  30. ^ RASGON, Adam (18 November 2018). "Times of Israel". Retrieved 3 February 2019.
  31. ^ "The Universal Postal Union (UPU)". Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. Encyclopedia. 2007. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
  32. ^ "WNS". www.wnsstamps.post. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  33. ^ "THE CABLE QUESTION". The Brisbane Courier. National Library of Australia. 15 February 1900. p. 5. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
  34. ^ "About .post". Universal Postal Union. Archived from the original on 10 July 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  35. ^ "IANA — .post Domain Delegation Data". Iana.org. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  36. ^ Gustavo Damy (19 September 2014). "Expression of Interest" (PDF). Universal Postal Union. Retrieved 3 October 2014.[permanent dead link]


  • Codding, G.A. (1964). The Universal Postal Union : coordinator of the international mails. New York: New York University Press.
  • "General Postal Union; October 9, 1874". The Avalon Project at Yale Law School. The Lillian Goldman Law Library in Memory of Sol Goldman. Retrieved 5 April 2008.

External links[edit]

Media related to Universal Postal Union at Wikimedia Commons Works related to Treaty of Bern at Wikisource

Coordinates: 46°56′20″N 7°28′31″E / 46.93881°N 7.475306°E / 46.93881; 7.475306