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Trump wants to upend yet another international treaty in the name of a “fair deal”

mail at US Post Office
AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Trump wants China and others to pay more to ship to the US.
  • Ana Campoy
By Ana Campoy

Deputy editor, global finance and economics

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Trump administration said it’s pulling the US out of the agency that governs international mail—unless it can get a better deal.

US officials were set to notify the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on Wednesday of their intention to abandon the 144-year-old body, a process that would take a year. In the meantime, the administration plans to engage in negotiations to modify its agreement with the UPU, so it doesn’t have to leave.

It’s Donald Trump’s latest effort to redress what he calls unfair conditions that benefit the rest of the world at the expense of the US. His qualm is with the way UPU sets the rates countries charge each other to deliver international mail once it reaches their shores. The agency, which is part of the United Nations, made the fees lower for developing countries.

This decision, which predates e-commerce and China’s transformation into an exporting behemoth, is now creating “economic distortion,” according to a senior White House official. (He also mentioned Singapore, Germany, and France as other countries that benefit from the “unfair system.”)

For example, he said, to send a one-pound package from Beijing to New York costs about $2.50; to send it to the same address from San Francisco: at least $10.

That hurts the US Postal Service, which has to absorb the difference, and American manufacturers, which end up paying higher domestic and international shipping prices than their foreign competitors, the official said. The cheap rates also encourage the contraband of counterfeit goods and drugs through third-party sellers, he added.

The US Post Office identified the uneven rates as an issue before Trump took office. Its inspector general put the losses from incoming international mail at $300 million from 2010 to 2014.

The Trump administration has started the process to set its own rates, a setup that the official said already exists for packages heavier than four pounds. The change could be fully implemented in as little as six months.

Manufacturers hailed the move as a “big win.”

As with other of Trump’s unilateral actions at international bodies, backing out of the UPU may push others to retaliate, undermining the whole system.

📬 A periodic dispatch from the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in NYC.

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