September 24, 2019 / 12:16 PM / a month ago

UN postal agency seeks to persuade US not to quit over Trump fee hike demand

GENEVA, Sept 24 (Reuters) - The U.N. body responsible for cooperation between countries’ postal services held emergency talks on Tuesday to persuade the United States not to quit over President Donald Trump’s demand to hike the fees Washington charges to deliver foreign mail.

The Trump administration has told the Universal Postal Union based in the Swiss capital Bern that it will quit unless the agency agrees to let countries charge more to deliver mail they receive from abroad. Last October Washington set a 12 month deadline.

“In an age of e-commerce the United States is being forced to heavily subsidize small parcels coming into our country. Many are from China but this is not strictly a China problem,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, who heads the U.S. delegation, told journalists in Geneva.

The UPU sets international postal rates that include strict caps on “terminal dues”, the charges postal services collect from each other to cover the cost of delivering international mail.

Navarro said the system had led to the United States Postal System paying what he described as annual “subsidies” of $300 million to $500 million to cover the cost of delivering mail across the United States that originates in other countries.

“So we lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year, tens of thousands of jobs, and the factories and economic growth associated with them,” Navarro said.

“When President Trump was briefed, he said ‘that’s crazy, fix it’. We set about doing it in ‘Trump time’, which is to say as quickly as possible,” Navarro said.

Bishar Hussein, UPU secretary-general, said that his nearly 150-year-old organisation had “the duty to ensure that everyone on this planet has access to the international mail”.

“Our overarching ambition is to uphold ‘One world. One postal network,’ he told the three-day extraordinary congress.

The U.S. delegation has said it would be willing to accept a two-phased option allowing the United States to impose new rates immediately while giving other countries five years to do so.

Democrats Abroad, the arm of the Democratic Party for Americans overseas, has warned of chaos and urged its members to lobby their Senators and representatives against the proposal by the Republican administration to quit the body.

“If the withdrawal goes forward, postal mail service to the United States will be thrown into disarray and the USPS expects postal service to and from the States to be massively disrupted,” the group said in a statement.

Navarro said Washington could quit without problems.

“We have prepared for a seamless transition. There will be absolutely no disruption in military mail, election mail, or holiday mail,” he said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay Editing by Peter Graff)

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