Universal Postal Union

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Coordinates: 46°56′20″N7°28′31″E / 46.93881°N 7.475306°E / 46.93881; 7.475306

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Universal Postal Union
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
Universal Postal Union Logo.svg
Formation9 October 1874;145 years ago (1874-10-09)
Type United Nations specialised agency
Legal statusActive
Headquarters Bern, Switzerland
Flag of Kenya.svg Bishar Abdirahman Hussein
Parent organization
United Nations Economic and Social Council
Website www.upu.int
Terra.png International relationsportal

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 language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

The Treaty of Bern, signed on 9 October 1874, established the General Postal Union, which is today known as the Universal Postal Union. Named for the Swiss city of Bern, where it was signed, the treaty was the result of an international conference convened by the Swiss Government on 15 September 1874. It was attended by representatives from 22 nations. Plans for the conference had been drawn up by Heinrich von Stephan, Postmaster-General of the German Reichspost.

United Nations Intergovernmental organization

The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization responsible for maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations, achieving international cooperation, and being a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations. It is the largest, most familiar, most internationally represented and most powerful intergovernmental organization in the world. The UN is headquartered on international territory in New York City; other main offices are in Geneva, Nairobi, Vienna and The Hague.


In the UPU Monument (Weltpostdenkmal) in Bern, bronze and granite, by Rene de Saint-Marceaux, the five continents join to transmit messages around the globe Weltpostdenkmal Bern.jpg
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

Before the Postal Union

Before the establishment of the UPU, every pair of countries that exchanged mail had to negotiate a postal treaty with each other. In the absence of a treaty providing for direct delivery of letters, senders sometimes resorted to mail forwarders who would transfer the mail through an intermediate country. [4]

Negotiations for postal treaties could drag on for years. When Elihu Washburne arrived in Paris in 1869 as the new United States Minister to France, he found "the singular spectacle ... of no postal arrangements between two countries connected by so many business and social relations." [5] :13–14 At the last grand dinner given by Emperor Napoleon III before the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the first topic he discussed with Washburne was the postal treaty. [5] :38 After Napoleon III was defeated at the Battle of Sedan, the United States became the first country to recognize the French Third Republic, an event that brought thousands of Parisians into the street shouting "Vive l'Amérique." [5] :124 However, such sentiments did not lead to the signing of a postal treaty between the United States and France. There would be no relief until the Postal Union was established in 1874. [5] :14 [6] :254–255 Washburne wrote, "There is no nation in the world more difficult to make treaties with than France." [5] :13

Napoleon III French emperor, president, and member of the House of Bonaparte

Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon I, was the first President of France from 1848 to 1852, and the last French monarch from 1852 to 1870. First elected president of the French Second Republic in 1848, he seized power in 1851, when he could not constitutionally be re-elected, and became the Emperor of the French. He founded the Second French Empire and was its only emperor until the defeat of the French army and his capture by Prussia and its allies in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He worked to modernize the French economy, rebuilt the center of Paris, expanded the overseas empire, and engaged in the Crimean War and the Second Italian War of Independence.

Franco-Prussian War Conflict between the Kingdom of Prussia and several other german kingdoms and (grand) duchies and the Second French Empire

The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.

Battle of Sedan battle during the Franco-Prussian War

The Battle of Sedan was fought during the Franco-Prussian War from 1 to 2 September 1870. It resulted in the capture of Emperor Napoleon III and large numbers of his troops and for all intents and purposes decided the war in favour of Prussia and its allies, though fighting continued under a new French government.

Faced with such difficulties, the United States took the lead in calling for improvements to international mail arrangements. United States Postmaster General Montgomery Blair called for an International Postal Congress in 1863. Meeting in Paris, the delegates laid down some general principles for postal cooperation but failed to come to an agreement. [7]

United States Postmaster General chief executive officer of the United States Postal Service

The postmaster general of the United States is the chief executive officer of the United States Postal Service. Megan Brennan is the current postmaster general.

Montgomery Blair American judge

Montgomery Blair, the son of Francis Preston Blair, elder brother of Francis Preston Blair, Jr. and cousin of B. Gratz Brown, was a politician and lawyer from Maryland. He served in the Lincoln administration cabinet as Postmaster-General from 1861 to 1864, during the Civil War.

General Postal Union

Heinrich von Stephan, German Postmaster-General and founder of the General Postal Union Georg Barlosius Heinrich von Stephan.jpg
Heinrich von Stephan, German Postmaster-General and founder of the General Postal Union

The task was taken up by Heinrich von Stephan, the Postmaster-General of the German Reichspost. After defeating Napoleon III in 1870, the North German Confederation and the South German states united to form the German Empire. The Reichspost established a uniform set of postage rates and regulations for the new country. However, the uniformity ended at the German border. Mailing a letter from Berlin to New York required different amounts of postage, depending on which ship carried the letter across the Atlantic Ocean. [8] To bring order to the system of international mail, von Stephan called for another International Postal Congress in 1874. [8]

Heinrich von Stephan postmaster

Ernst Heinrich Wilhelm von Stephan was a general post director for the German Empire who reorganized the German postal service. He was integral in the founding of the Universal Postal Union in 1874, and in 1877 introduced the telephone to Germany.

Reichspost was the name of the postal service of Germany from 1866 to 1945.

North German Confederation Federal state in Northern Germany in 1867–1871

The North German Confederation was the German federal state which existed from July 1867 to December 1870. Although de jure a confederacy of equal states, the Confederation was de facto controlled and led by the largest and most powerful member, Prussia, which exercised its influence to bring about the formation of the German Empire. Some historians also use the name for the alliance of 22 German states formed on 18 August 1866. In 1870–1871, the south German states of Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Württemberg and Bavaria joined the country. On 1 January 1871, the country adopted a new constitution, which was written under the title of a new "German Confederation" but already gave it the name "German Empire" in the preamble and article 11.

Meeting in Bern, Switzerland, the delegates agreed to all of von Stephan's proposals. [8] The Treaty of Bern was signed on October 9, 1874, establishing what was then known as the General Postal Union. [9]

The treaty provided 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 important result of the Treaty was that it was no longer necessary to affix postage stamps of countries that a mailpiece passed through in transit. The UPU provides that stamps from member nations are accepted along the entire international route.

Universal Postal Union

The Treaty of Bern had been signed by 21 countries, 19 of which were located in Europe. After the General Postal Union was established, its membership grew rapidly as other countries joined. At the second Postal Union Congress in 1878, it was renamed the Universal Postal Union. [7]

French was the sole 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. [10]

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, as denominations written out in letters were not universally comprehensible. [11] Another required member nations to 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. [12]

100 years of UPU commemorated on a US postage stamp Universal Postal Union stamp 10c 1974 issue.jpg
100 years of UPU commemorated on a US postage stamp

After the foundation of the United Nations, the UPU became a specialized agency of the UN in 1948. [13] It is currently the third oldest international organization after the Rhine Commission and the International Telecommunication Union.

Terminal dues


The 1874 treaty provided for the originating country to keep all of the postage revenue, without compensating the destination country for delivery. The idea was that each letter would generate a reply, so the postal flows would be in balance. [14] [15] However, other classes of mail had imbalanced flows. In 1906, the Italian postal service was delivering 325,000 periodicals mailed from other countries to Italy, while Italian publishers were mailing no periodicals to other countries. [15] The system also encouraged countries to remail through another country, forcing the intermediate postal service to bear the costs of transport to the final destination. [16]

Remailing was banned in 1924, but the UPU took no action on imbalanced flows until 1969. The problem of imbalanced flows became acute after decolonization, as dozens of former European colonies entered the UPU as independent states. The developing countries received more mail than they sent, so they wanted to be paid for delivery. [15]

In 1969, the UPU introduced a system of terminal dues. When two countries had imbalanced mail flows, the country that sent more mail would have to pay a fee to the country that received more mail. The amount was based on the difference in the weight of mail sent and received. [15] Since the Executive Council had been unable to come up with a cost-based compensation scheme after five years of study, terminal dues were set arbitrarily at half a gold franc (0.163 SDR) per kilogram. [16]


Once terminal dues had been established, they became a topic of discussion at every future Postal Union Congress. The 1974 Congress tripled the terminal dues to 1.5 gold francs, and the 1979 Congress tripled them again to 4.5 gold francs. The 1984 Congress increased terminal dues by another 45%. [16]

The system of terminal dues also created new winners and losers. Since the terminal dues were fixed, low-cost countries that were net recipients would turn a profit on delivering international mail. Developing countries were low-cost recipients, but so were developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom. [15] Since the dues were payable based on weight, periodicals would be assessed much higher terminal dues than letters. [14]

The continuing fiscal imbalances required repeated changes to the system of terminal dues. In 1988 a per-item charge was included in terminal dues to drive up the cost of remailing, an old scourge that had returned. [16] To resolve the problem with periodicals, the UPU adopted a "threshold" system in 1991 that set separate letter and periodical rates for countries which receive at least 150 tonnes of mail annually. [14] The 1999 Postal Congress established "country-specific" terminal dues for industrialized countries, offering a lower rate to developing countries. [16]

Shifting balances and the United States

In 2010, the United States was a net sender because it was mailing goods to other countries. That year, the United States Postal Service made a $275 million surplus on international mail. [17] In addition, the UPU system was only available to state-run postal services. Low terminal dues gave the United States Postal Service an advantage over private postal services such as Fedex and DHL. To protect its profits on sending international mail, the United States voted with the developing countries to keep terminal dues low. They were opposed by the German Bundespost and the Norwegian Post, which wanted to increase terminal dues. [15]

However, the low terminal dues backfired on the United States due to shifts in mail flows. With the growth of e-commerce, the United States began to import more goods through the mail. In 2015, the United States Postal Service made a net deficit on international mail for the first time. The deficits increased to $80 million in 2017. [17] The UPU established a new remuneration system in 2016, [18] a move that the United States Department of State said would "dramatically improv[e] USPS's cost coverage for the delivery of ... packets from China and other developing countries." However, the Chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission disagreed. [19]

2019 Extraordinary Congress

With the outbreak of the China–United States trade war in 2018, the issue of terminal dues was pushed into the forefront. American shippers complained that mailing a package from China to the United States cost less than mailing the same package within the United States. [17] Since China was classified as a developing country, it could pay lower terminal dues than the United States. [19] :38 The Donald Trump administration complained that it was "being forced to heavily subsidize small parcels coming into our country." [20] On October 17, 2018, the United States declared its withdrawal from the UPU, effective October 17, 2019, with the intention of moving to self-declared terminal dues. [21]

The Universal Postal Union responded by calling, for only the third time in its history, an Extraordinary Congress for 24–26 September 2019. [22] The members voted down a proposal preferred by the United States, [23] which would have allowed immediate self-declaration of terminal dues. [24] The UPU then passed a Franco-German compromise to allow self-declared terminal dues of up to 70% of the domestic postage rate, phasing them in from 2021 to 2025. [25] [26]


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" [27] and are published by the UPU International Bureau in accordance with Part VII of that publication.

Member countries

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. Universal Postal Union membership.png
  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 every UN member 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). [28] 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 [29] and they were grandfathered in when membership was restricted to sovereign states. [30]

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 direct international deliveries. For example, the TRNC's mail goes via Turkey, Somaliland's mail via Ethiopia, and Kosovo via Serbia. [31]

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, [32] [33] though this had not been implemented as of November 2012. [34] As of 2016, Palestine will begin receiving direct mail. [35] In November 2018, Palestine signed papers of accession to the UPU and intends on joining as a full member. [36]


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. [37]

Philatelic activities

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 [38] 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

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. [39] The International Telecommunication Union currently facilitates international electronic communication.

In order to integrate postal services and the Internet, the UPU sponsors .post. [40] [41] 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. [42]

See also

Related Research Articles

An international reply coupon (IRC) is a coupon that can be exchanged for one or more postage stamps representing the minimum postage for an unregistered priority airmail letter of up to twenty grams sent to another Universal Postal Union (UPU) member country. IRCs are accepted by all UPU member countries.

Mail System for transporting documents and other small packages

The mail or post is a system for physically transporting postcards, letters, and parcels. A postal service can be private or public, though many governments place restrictions on private systems. Since the mid-19th century, national postal systems have generally been established as a government monopoly, with a fee on the article prepaid. Proof of payment is usually in the form of an adhesive postage stamp, but a postage meter is also used for bulk mailing. Modern private postal systems are distinguished from national postal agencies by the terms "courier" or "delivery service".

Franking refers to any devices, markings, or combinations thereof ("franks") applied to mails of any class which qualifies them to be postally serviced. Types of franks include uncanceled and precanceled postage stamps, impressions applied via postage meter, official use "Penalty" franks, Business Reply Mail (BRM), and other permit Imprints (Indicia), manuscript and facsimile "franking privilege" signatures, "soldier's mail" markings, and any other forms authorized by the 191 postal administrations that are members of the Universal Postal Union. Franked Mail is postage that has a prepaid label attached instead of stamps in the UK that are franked only mailboxes which can be used providing the idea to the label requirements postage paid online or also produce a label which needs to be scanned at a post office for it to be activated so it needs to be taken in and handed over the counter or hand it directly to a postman who can scan them in with a handheld PDA

Postage due

Postage due is the term used for mail sent with insufficient postage. A postage due stamp is a stamp added to an underpaid piece of mail to indicate the extra postage due.

History of United States postage rates

Initial United States postage rates were set by Congress as part of the Postal Service Act signed into law by President George Washington on February 20, 1792. The postal rate varied according to "distance zone", the distance a letter was to be carried from the post office where it entered the mail to its final destination. Rates were adopted in 1847 for mail to or from the Pacific Coast and in 1848 for mail sent from one place in the west to another place in the west. There were double and triple rates as a letter's size increased. There were ship fees which were also added. The ship fee, including the ship rate on letters for delivery at the port of entry, were on a per letter basis, rather than weight. The United States issued its first postage stamps in 1847. Before that time, the rates, dates and origin of the letter were written by hand or sometimes in combination with a handstamp device.

Express mail accelerated mail delivery service

Express mail is an expedited mail delivery service for which the customer pays a premium for faster delivery. Express mail is a service for domestic and international mail, and is in most nations governed by the country's own postal administration. Since 1999, the international express delivery services are governed by the EMS Cooperative.

Poșta Română company

CN Poșta Română SA is the national operator in the field of postal services in Romania. It is the sole supplier of universal service in any point on the Romanian territory.

Illegal stamps design fraudulently released as if it was an official stamp

Illegal stamps are postage stamp-like labels issued in the names of existing independent countries or territories used to defraud postal administrations, stamp collectors, and the general public. Often, but not always, a member nation of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) will have asked the UPU to issue of an "International Bureau Circular" advising others of the illegal stamps. According to the UPU, the market is estimated to be at least $500 million per year.

Postage stamps and postal history of the Palestinian National Authority

The Palestinian National Authority began in 1994 to issue stamps and operate postal services as authorized by the Oslo Accords.

Mobile post office

Mobile post offices deliver mail and other postal services through specially equipped vehicles, such as trucks and trains.

Postage stamps and postal history of Turkey

The postal history of Turkey and its predecessor state, the Ottoman Empire, dates to the 18th century when foreign countries maintained courier services through their consular offices in the Empire. Although delayed in the development of its own postal service, in 1863 the Ottoman Empire became the second independent country in Asia to issue adhesive postage stamps, and in 1875, it became a founding member of the General Postal Union, soon to become the Universal Postal Union. The Ottoman Empire became the Republic of Turkey in 1923, and in the following years, its postal service became more modernized and efficient and its postage stamps expertly designed and manufactured.

Postal Union Congress main international meeting of the Universal Postal Union

The Postal Union Congress is the main international meeting of the Universal Postal Union, used to discuss various issues affecting international postal services, such as legislation, the political climate, and other strategic issues. The first congress was held in Bern, Switzerland in 1874, and was attended by delegates from 22 countries, most of them European. The meetings are normally held every four years, although they were cancelled during the two World Wars. Extraordinary Meetings can also be called outside the four-year cycle.

Postage stamps and postal history of Japan

The story of Japan's postal system with its postage stamps and related postal history goes back centuries. The country's first modern postal service got started in 1871, with mail professionally travelling between Kyoto and Tokyo as well as the latter city and Osaka. This took place in the midst of the rapid industrialization and social reorganization that the Meiji period symbolized in Japanese history. Given how the nation's railroad technology was in its infancy, Japan's growing postal system relied heavily on human-powered transport, including rickshaws, as well as horse-drawn methods of delivery. For example, while commemorating the 50th anniversary of Japan's postal service, the country's 1921 government released decorative postcards depicting intrepid horseback riders carrying the mail.

This is a survey of the postage stamps and postal history of Yemen.

World Post day happens each year on October 9, the anniversary of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which started in 1874 in Switzerland. The UPU was the start of the global communications revolution, introducing the ability to write to others all over the world. World Post Day started in 1969. Since then, countries all over the world take part in celebrations to highlight the importance of the postal service. Many things happen on this day. Post offices in some countries hold special stamp collection exhibitions; there are open days at postal measures and there are workshops on postal history. The UPU organises an international letter writing competition for young people.

The Barbados Postal Service (B.P.S.) is the national postal operator of Barbados and operates as a department within the Government of Barbados where it reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Barbados Postal Service (B.P.S.) is headed by the Postmaster General, Margaret Ashby, who is responsible for maintaining the island’s postal services, subject to the laws of the island. In 1852, the Postal services for Barbados were reconstituted following the passage of local legislation enabling the delivery of inland postage.


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