Universal Postal Union
The Universal Postal Union (UPU, French: Union postale universelle) is an international organization 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 two cooperatives including the Telematics and EMS Cooperatives respectively. Each member agrees to the same terms for conducting international postal duties. The UPU’s headquarters are located in Bern, Switzerland.
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 official languages.
Prior to the establishment of the UPU, each country had to prepare a separate postal treaty with other nations it wished to carry international mail to or from. To simplify the complexity of this system, 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’s currently the third oldest international organization after the Rhine Commission and the ITU. The UPU was created in 1874, initially under the name "General Postal Union", as a result of the Treaty of Bern signed on October 9, 1874. Four years later, the name was changed to "Universal Postal Union."
The UPU established that:
- There should be a uniform flat rate to mail a letter anywhere in the world.
- Postal authorities should give equal treatment to foreign and domestic mail
- 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.
After the foundation of the United Nations in 1945, the UPU became a specialized agency of the UN. 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. Ultimately, this new system was fairer when traffic was heavier in one direction than the other. As this affected the cost of the delivery of periodicals, the UPU devised a new "threshold" system, which it later implemented in 1991.
The system sets separate letter and periodical rates for countries which receive at least 150 tons of mail annually. For countries with less mail, the original flat rate is still maintained. 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 Coupons and addresses concerns with ETOEs.